Wednesday, November 19, 2008

TEFL Assignment 2-Levels in a Classroom

So, I'm taking a Teaching English as a Foreign Language course online. The essays are the culminating assignments for each module. Each essay requires a 700 word answer to a prompt which, if the first module serves as model, is composed of a couple of questions. I'm very interested to find myself struggling to answer the questions. I have really strong feelings about most of the concepts presented in the module, and yet I feel as if I might serve myself better toning down the harshness of my responses. Here's the fourth one.

Taking a look at the levels in section 2.6, consider those ranging from level 0 to Level 8. What are some special strategies you´d have to adopt if you had a class with two levels in it? How do the challenges of ESL/EFL teaching change in a multi-level classroom?

Taking into consideration the great many international programs that exist with the mission of teaching English, it is hard to imagine the many differences that likely exist amongst programs. These differences might relate to the number of students, intensity of classes, size of individual classes, materials available, and so on, for each particular program. To the extent that programs serve smaller and smaller populations, it is likely that ESL/EFL teachers will face classrooms that embody students who represent different levels of ability.

As we can anticipate this possibility, we are able to think about the ramifications of such a classroom makeup, as well as develop an action plan to reduce problems that sometimes stem from a multilevel group. Many might view the accompanying challenges as impassable deficiencies or grave difficulties, but personally, I see them as providing the ESL/EFL instructor with great opportunities.

The obstacles are clear. How does one challenge the “lower” students in the class while simultaneously and yet equally challenging the “higher” students? Additionally, with so much of the focus on the two extremes of skill level – the high and the low – how does a teacher construct and scaffold activities that also challenge the students in the middle of the road?

Before one begins to develop inclusive strategies, it is absolutely imperative that the teacher be cognizant of the levels of each and every student. This determination need not be made using a formal assessment, although formal assessments can be a piece of the overall picture of a student’s level of proficiency. Rather, a more holistic understanding of the students strengths, weaknesses, interests, goals, and so on, is necessary in order to develop an inclusive, engaging curriculum for all levels of students.

Once the respective levels of the students are well known by the teacher, the multilevel dynamic can begin to take on a utilitarian existence rather than a presenting a hurdle to be laboriously cleared. I am very much enamored by the idea of peer-to-peer interaction, at all ages and skill levels of young child and adult learners. By recognizing the levels of each student, the teacher can arrange students in pairs that will play to the strengths and weaknesses of each team member.

In doing so, the teacher accomplishes a few things. First, they are limiting the TTT, which is always a good thing. Additionally, for the “lower” level student, the teacher has set up a comfortable structure devoid of the pressure to perform in front of the entire group, a task that may intimidate many. Students are still held accountable, however this accountability is required by peers who are striving for that which all the students desire – proficiency in a foreign language.

Furthermore, the student acting as the tutor gets clarification and review of concepts by explaining them to their classmate. Their affect obviously benefits, as they become more confident in their understanding of the given material.

In a dynamic and vibrant classroom, the aforementioned roles will generally flip, and those who once tutored will find themselves asking their classmates for assistance. The recognition that each and every student has much to offer is very empowering on a very real level.

As far as the teacher’s role in the classroom, multilevel populations can present unique challenges. One key challenge exists in the realm of teacher talk, especially inasmuch as the teacher is giving instructions. Amongst the various differences in the 9 levels described in the Module is the aggregation of verb forms over the course of the journey to bilingualism. It is clear that a teacher must be realistic about what forms of verbs they use, as a portion of the classroom might be entirely confused by a verb form improperly or inchoately discussed or practiced.

Overall, I think teachers have to be very careful in a classroom with students representing different levels of proficiency. The confidence that each student brings to school is as delicate as it is integral, which is to say that it is extremely delicate. The last thing we want, as teachers, is to discourage someone who is making a concerted effort to learn and have them respond by shutting down their participation and desire to improve.

Hi Cameron,

This one is better. Nice job.

The issue of multi-level classes is all too common in our profession, and an ongoing headache for all too many of us. The sad fact is that there simply are no elegant, all-encompassing solutions for this problem, only some strategies which make it more tolerable. Some teachers have it worse than others, and we hope that in your career, this frustration occurs infrequently.

You have done a thoughtful and thorough analysis of the enjoyable and challenging aspects of teaching these levels. Your strategies for dealing with a mixed-level classroom were particularly good, reflecting your experience and creativity. The activities you mentioned allowing students to excel at their own levels will be useful in many situations. Combined oral/written placement test will address the issue that the various language skills, and that they may not always develop at the same rate.

Again, however, as I mentioned last assignment, suggest that you pitch future assignments more toward the personal and the practical and less toward the formal and academic.

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