Classes of Mixed AbilityIn an ESL/EFL classroom, it is often that a teacher will encounter students at varying levels. While this problem can be prevented to an extent, it still becomes an inevitable problem that a teacher needs to be prepared to handle in the classroom. There are a variety of ways to remedy a class of different levels, and it is important for a teacher to be aware of the various methods and strategies that can be applied
to a classroom of mixed ability.
When encountering a classroom of students at different levels of english abilities, a teacher will be presented with a numerous amount of circumstances that can be overwhelming. First and foremost, in an ESL/EFL classroom, students will have different levels of literacy in their own native language, which will greatly impact their ability to learn a foreign language. In addition to this factor, a teacher will be presented with a number of other circumstances of mixed ability levels. A teacher will encounter different types of learning backgrounds, such as those who are familiar with the Roman alphabet, and those who have been exposed to english only through a course textbook, or those who have been exposed to english only through authentic materials (englishclub.com). Such learning backgrounds are among the many other learning backgrounds that a teacher will run into.
Due to the aforementioned circumstances that a teacher will be exposed to when teaching an ESL/EFL classroom, a number of methods should be utilized to prevent educational gaps within a classroom. It is crucial for a teacher to determine the levels of his or her students at the beginning of a course. If different levels are recognized in the beginning, a teacher can make a class syllabus and future lesson plans that adapt different language levels, and this would help to prevent educational gaps that may occur in the classroom. Moreover, if possible, a teacher should conduct periodical needs analysis reports for each student in the classroom, in order to accurately determine class material that caters to students’ language abilities. After examining students’ needs analysis reports, a teacher can then accurately determine what each student needs. As a result, methods in dealing with different ability levels can be implemented in an efficient manner that accommodates the specific needs of each student, and this would help to set each student up for success.
In addition, there are effective strategies that help to alleviate the many issues that arise when teaching a classroom of mixed ability. A popular strategy is to pair stronger students with weaker students. In this process, stronger students can help to explain and clarify class material for weaker students. This can be helpful for weaker students because they are more engaged in learning when working with a peer on a one-to-one level. Another strategy that a teacher can utilize is to provide different class materials that correspond to different levels, or to provide same class materials with different tasks. This strategy is also known as ‘differentiated instruction’. According to Dorit Sasson, in using differentiated instruction, teachers can cater to a wide variety of varied interests, cultural backgrounds, and world knowledge, which results in a more dynamic classroom interaction (suite101.com).
Moreover, in a classroom, Sasson suggests two main options to consider when assigning tasks: quantity and level of difficulty. As far as quantity, the same task can be assigned to the whole class, but students are not required to do the same amount of questions or exercises. From my personal experience, during my college career, I appreciated how one of my professors gave options as to how many questions to answer on an exam. For example, out of a series of 50 questions, students were only required to answer a total of 25 questions. In terms of level of difficulty, the teacher can adapt the task to two or three different levels, which allows for students to choose the level he or she feels most comfortable with, and this plays an important factor in preventing frustration for weaker students, and boredom for stronger students.
Furthermore, as you can see, it is an inevitable factor for a teacher to encounter a class of mixed ability levels. A teacher should acknowledge this factor and adapt class material that caters to the specific needs of each student in the classroom. This process will be challenging and at times overwhelming, but a good teacher should make the effort in taking the extra step in accommodating the needs of each individual student in his or her classroom by taking into account the various methods and strategies aforementioned.
Using Differentiated Teaching Strategies. (http://www.suite101.com/content/how-to-work-with-
differentiated-teaching-a58470). Accessed July 5, 2011).
Teaching Multi-Level Classes. (http://www.englishclub.com/teaching-tips/teaching-multi-level-
classes.htm). Accessed July 5, 2011).