A total of 29 instructors and 27 students participated in the focus groups, group sizes ranging between nine and ten individuals. Instructors were generally female, with an average age of 50 years and having taught ESL for 11 years at various class levels. Students were generally female with an average age of 42 years. The majority were born in mainland China, having immigrated to Canada, on average, three years prior. The majority was also currently married, had an average of 14 years of education, and was unemployed. After independent analysis, the four staff members agreed on the following themes.
Effective teaching strategies/activities
Instructors identified several overarching goals to guide the selection and development of classroom activities. One goal is to engage students in interactions with other students to build skills in speaking and listening. Several instructors also noted the importance of improving the functional language skills of students which improves one's ability to operate in society. Learning words that allow one to take a bus or to explain one's health symptoms to a doctor are examples of functional language. Several examples were given for ways to achieve these goals through the development, selection, and delivery of curricula.
Student interactions through incomplete stories
Instructors mentioned that student-to-student interactions are encouraged through a number of classroom activities (). One such activity is a mingle, where students are given a list of characteristics and they need to find another student who matches one of these characteristics (e.g. has brown hair).
In addition to mingles, instructors noted common exercises that encourage student interactions. One specific activity is a jigsaw reading, wherein students form groups (generally of four students), and each group is given text to a single part of a larger essay or story. The groups meet to review their part, then the students form new groups consisting of a single member from each of the original groups. Each student then explains his/her part and the larger story is created. A list of true-false or matching questions may also be given to the final group to test comprehension.
Another group activity is called an information gap. For this activity, students get into pairs and one student is given text where a word or group of words is omitted. The second student is given the same text where a different word or group of words is omitted. The students then quiz each other to complete their text.
Student interactions through games
The use of games is another example of activities that instructors mentioned was effective in encouraging student-to-student interactions. Several instructors stated that using games in the classroom is well-received. It is a common practice for instructors to adapt commonly used games, such as Bingo and Concentration to reinforce key vocabulary, and Go Fish to match components of a topic, such as a given disease with its remedy. Some instructors adapt the television game Jeopardy, where students are presented with the answer to a question and they must invent the question. Other games allow groups of students to compete with each other and receive points or fake money for stating or writing the correct answer.
Students, however, were not uniformly pleased with the use of games in the classroom. Most students stated that they enjoyed the games, however some students believe that games are for children only. Students noted, however, that instructors who use body language, facial expression, and are lively are considered more effective and interesting, than other instructors.
Speaking and listening skills
Both instructors and students underscored the importance of instruction that focuses on speaking rather than on writing. Moreover, students stated that they prefer instruction that is taught solely in English, without the aid of native language dictionaries.
Several instructors noted the importance of teaching language that allows students to improve their functioning in society. To that end, instructors usually select curricula on topics that are considered relevant to students. The importance of building students' functional abilities in English was echoed by students. Students, for example, noted that they pay attention to instruction that addresses relevant topics, such as going to the post office, finding an apartment, dealing with immigration or legal issues, or ordering food at a restaurant. In contrast, instruction about holidays is not considered relevant, especially if the holiday is not celebrated in their home country.
Instructors noted that field trips were useful means of developing functional language skills. Field trips were commonly mentioned by both instructors and students as an activity that made a lasting impression.
Instructors mentioned that they supplemented their teaching strategies with visual aids and props. Students also stated that diagrams and pictures aid in learning. Instructors and students both noted that videos are commonly used and effective in reinforcing content.
Some instructors and students mentioned activities that accompany a video, such a pre-teaching vocabulary using matching or other activities, providing students with a list of words that they check off as they hear them on the video, or providing students a copy of the entire dialog for the video with key words blanked out (students then listen for the words to complete the dialog).
Development of a curriculum on hepatitis B
As the purpose of our project was to develop a curriculum on hepatitis B, we gathered instructor and student input relevant to hepatitis B content and activities. Some instructors suggested inviting a guest speaker with hepatitis B to talk about his/her personal experience with the disease. Other instructors stated that the curriculum must address key content areas, such as routes of transmission, symptoms, how to prevent becoming infected, and the logistical aspects of getting a blood test (i.e. where to go, what the results mean, and who will see the results, etc.).
Instructors also expressed the concern that hepatitis B may be a sensitive topic and many offered suggestions for desensitizing the instruction. They noted the importance of being clear and honest about the routes of transmission, and none thought that transmission through blood and body fluids would be difficult to teach. Instructors thought that it is important not to single out a given racial or ethnic group as being at particular high risk of disease, but instead to present examples of real people, even movie stars who have had hepatitis B.
When students were asked about ways to develop a curriculum on hepatitis B, several common themes emerged. Students were very interested in learning about ways to prevent getting hepatitis if one is uninfected, and what hepatitis B carriers ought to do to improve their health and prevent the spread of disease to others. Students commonly mentioned that the curriculum must address the severity of the disease. Some students noted that the curriculum should address symptoms of the disease. One student offered that persons will pay attention only when they feel scared.
Students were also interested in knowing why certain groups have higher rates of hepatitis B than others. Some students believe that a person's risk of hepatitis B decreases once that person comes to Canada. As also mentioned by the instructors, students expressed interest in learning about the logistical aspects of receiving a blood test, such as how to arrange a doctor's visit, how to make an appointment, how to explain one's symptoms, and how to pick up medicine from the pharmacy. Students noted that while many physicians serving Chinese Canadians in Vancouver speak Chinese, lab personnel rarely do. Finally, students raised concerns about cultural taboos around being infected with hepatitis B. Students mentioned that it was important not to associate hepatitis B with a given racial or ethnic group.