It is very difficult to teach a class with clearly different levels of language competency. They may have different starting levels of English or they may learn at very different speeds.
According to the new conception of teaching foreign languages at elementary, middle and high schools of our country the whole approach has been changed. The new approach takes into consideration the fact that the learners in a definite class are most likely to have different levels of language knowledge and communicative skills.
Every pupil has the right to be involved in the classroom activities irrespective of his or her personal capabilities.
On the one hand, we don’t have the right to neglect the pupils with little capabilities and, on the other hand, the lesson shouldn’t be boring for the smart pupils.
Realizing the importance of setting different demands for the pupils of mixed abilities, new three level standards for listening, speaking, reading and writing have been worked out in our country lately.
Some strategies of work in classes of mixed abilities
The first strategy involves creating or providing different tasks for different levels. For example, the teacher can use a number of comprehension questions for a text. The teacher may have two sets of questions-A and B. Perhaps all students have to complete set A, the stronger ones also have to complete set B, or they even have an extra reading text. This obviously increases the amount of lesson preparation. For example, the teacher gives the students the following text to read.
“CAN I HELP YOU MADAM?”
A woman in blue jeans stood at the window of an expensive shop. Though she hesitated for a moment, she finally went in and asked to see a dress that was in the window. The assistant who served her did not like the way she was dressed. Glancing at her scornfully, he told her that the dress was sold. The woman walked out of the shop angrily and decided to punish the assistant next day. She returned to the shop the following
morning dressed in a fur coat, with a handbag in one hand and a long umbrella in the other. After seeking out the rude assistant she asked for the same dress. Not realizing who she was, the assistant was eager to serve her this time. With great difficulty, he climbed into the shop window to get the dress. As soon as she saw it, the woman said she didn’t like it. She enjoyed herself making the assistant bring almost everything in the window before finally buying the dress she had first asked
After reading this text the stronger students have to do detailed dictionary work on the vocabulary of the text. With the stronger students spending 10 minutes working with dictionaries the teacher has time to monitor and help the weaker ones with the text. Then the teacher can go through the shared comprehension tasks for the class and perhaps the stronger
students can make a presentation about the words they have researched.
Now I want to speak about the extra work and homework. It is
straightforward to give different students different homework. The teacher should give weaker students homework which really consolidates the class work and should give the stronger students work that will widen their knowledge.
When teaching mixed ability classes the weaker students will be missing things during the lesson or failing to understand. And the teacher should use homework to address this.
Writing tasks are great for homework, as a productive skill that can be performed individually. The teacher can expect more from the stronger students and use it as a way to identify their weaknesses, which may not be so apparent during the class.
The strategy of student’s nomination is a simple classroom management technique that really helps in the mixed ability class.
When nominating, the teacher should:
1. Ask the question before she gives the name of the student. In this case everyone has to listen.
2. Consider how easy it is for the student to answer. If a weak student will struggle, perhaps she should ask a stronger student. If a weak student should be capable, then she should ask them.
3. Avoid making students seem foolish, and yet also avoid patronizing them by only asking super simple questions.
4. Nominate with variety. The teacher should be careful to avoid nominating the same selection of students. In a large class she should keep a note of the students she has asked over a lesson, just to make sure she hasn’t developed a pattern.
In a mixed level class the teacher can have different expectations of the language that the different students produce. Sometimes it can push the stronger students if the teacher corrects them heavily-although she
should be sensitive about this. And for the weaker students the
teacher should be more selective in her error correction.
The strategies for teaching mixed level classes are probably developing a positive and collaborative working atmosphere and providing a variety of work suitable for different levels.
In our days every student requires an individual approach according to the abilities shown. One should get an extra task so as not to be bored, another barely manages to follow the lesson, yet another needs a lesser task and some extra attention.
Organizing the teacher’s work according to the newly worked out three-level standards
Here are some samples of standards of narrative speech at elementary schools
Low level Middle level High level
|-to speak about a picture describing the actions, using the most common verbs
||-to describe daily actions that does the person himself or the others (in the moment of speaking, usually or in the past) using words denoting actions (adverbs of time, place, manner and so on).
||-to describe some picture, phenomenon, event, what he has heard or seen, to express his attitude and to motivate it (for example- I like it because…)
According to the fixed standard demands of different levels the teacher may give different tasks to the pupils of different levels. For example the teacher gives them some picture to describe. It is a picture of a seaside where people are lying on the beach, swimming, playing different games or just relaxing and having a good time.
The pupils of low level are expected to give simple descriptions of the picture. For example: One man is lying on the beach under a big umbrella. Some boys and girls areplaying volley-ball on the sands…. They describe the picture by using the most common verbs.
The pupils of the middle level give more vivid description of the picture, they speak about its color, cleanness, about the swimming people and the games they are playing in the water, they can also describe the way they are dressed. While describing they use adverbs of manner, place and time.
The pupils of the high level are expected to give their own opinion about this picture. By looking at the same picture they not only describe it but also express their own opinions and attitude towards this picture and they should also motivate the actions of different people in the picture.
Here are some samples of standards of narrative speech at middle school:
Low level Middle level High level
|-to speak about some event or incident (for example-what happened, when, where and so on).
||-to discuss or speak about what happened and for what reason.
||-to explain some event or incident that has happened expressing his own opinion and attitude.
Here is a sample text for the ninth form of middle school for the development of narrative speech.
A CLEAR CONSCIENCE
The whole village soon learnt that a large sum of money had been lost. Sam Benton, the local butcher, had lost his wallet while taking his savings to the post-office. Sam was sure that the wallet must have been found by one of the villagers, but it was not returned to him. Three months passed, and then one morning, Sam found his wallet outside his front door. It had been wrapped up in newspaper and it contained half the money he had lost, together with a note which said: ‘A thief, yes, but only 50 per cent a thief!’ two months later, some more money was sent to Sam with another note: ‘Only 25 per cent a thief now!’ In time, all Sam’s money was paid back in this way. The last note said: ‘I am 100 per cent honest now!’
At first the pupils may answer simple multiple choice questions on the text. For example:
1. The whole village soon learnt that the local butcher had lost his purse …
a) full of money b) full of stones c) full of gold
2. The butcher was sure that the money must have been found by …
a) a tourist from town b) someone who lived in the same village c) a postman
After answering the multiple choice questions the pupils of the low level are expected to narrate only the sequence of events or happenings of this text. At first the pupils are expected to give the main idea of the text: A villager lost his money. Someone found it but didn’t return it. Three months later he sent half of the money…
The pupils of the middle level try to discuss the text and speak about what happened and for what reason. Some of them say that they think that the thief stole the money because he was in need of it and, may be, nobody wanted to give him money. They explain that the thief had no other way to earn the money and he decided to steal it and after some time return it back, so they justify the act of the thief. Others may express a different point of view by claiming that the man who found the wallet should have returned it to the owner by all means. They are of the opinion that no reason can justify the theft.
The pupils of the high level explain what had happened in the text expressing their own opinion and attitude towards this text. They are also expected to recall a similar episode from their lives and how they acted in that situation.
Here are some samples of standards of writing at middle schools:
Low level Middle level High level
|– to write a short personal letter to somebody, to invite or thank somebody using cultured expressions and speech patterns
||-to write a letter to a friend telling him about his family, school, city, hobby
||-to write an official letter, request, answer to the request keeping the rules of such letter writing and also keeping lingual models characteristic to the official style
|-with several simple sentences to describe people, things, events or occasions connecting simple expressions and sentences with joining words
||-to write a text describing people, events, places, daily events expressing his impressions
||-to write a simple and brief text about subjects that we are interested in, hobbies, interests expressing his opinion
Writing skills are often the most difficult skills for students of English as a foreign language to acquire. This may be because of the great emphasis on listening, speaking and reading in the classroom.
While there are differences between spoken and written English – for, spoken English has more shortened forms, contractions, omission and colloquial expressions- these differences need not intimidate the learner at the intermediate level, nor prevent the teacher from introducing real writing practice at this stage. And real writing, that is, practicing realistic use of the language (in its simpler written forms), is possible at this stage if the teacher provides good models and useful vocabulary for life like situations.
Letter writing, with its many forms and uses, is another activity that is particularly advantageous for the following reasons:
1. The vocabulary and structures in the letter may be taken from the students’ own learned material.
2. The letters may be short and simple in form and style, gradually increasing in length and complexity as the students’ progress.
3. The letter writing assignments may vary according to type and style as selected by the teacher and the students.
4. The letters may be corrected and kept in the students’ notebooks for actual use as models later on.
The pupils of the low level are to write a short letter in which they make an invitation or thank somebody by using polite expressions.
An invitation letter
| June 25, 2007
My family and I would like to invite you to spend the summer holidays at our summer house byLakeSevan. Our house is near the beach and you will be free to swim and walk along the shore as much as you want.
We will take you to Sevan in our car. You will only have to ask for your parents’ permission. We are looking forward to seeing you and do hope that you can come.
Expressing thankfulness“ a bread and butter letter”
| September 15, 2007
Thank you again for the wonderful weekend! I had such a good time visiting you and your family, and I enjoyed meeting all your relatives. I shall never forget the warm hospitality.
I hope that some day you are able to visit me. I would like to return your kindness and hospitality.
Please give my respects to all your family.
The pupils of the middle level are expected to write a letter to their friend telling them about their school, family, city, etc.
| November 28, 2007
I have missed you a lot. Since you have gone our city has changed a lot. During the last few years many beautiful buildings and offices have been built.
In the Republic Square, which is the heart of the city, beautiful fountains were opened to celebrate the 16 anniversary of our independence.
I hope that some day you will return back to our city and we will be able to see these beautiful changes together.
The pupils of the high level write requests, official letters keeping the rules of such letter writing.
Request (for catalog)
|Superior Books, Ltd. 12/10/05
I would like to request a free catalog on American literature books.
Please send it to the address below.
Thank you for your attention.
Here are some samples of standards for narrative speech at high schools:
|To form an oral connected speech describing persons, things, phenomena, events: (for example, to describe the chosen profession, people’s characters, school and so on)
||To form an oral connected speech describing persons, things, phenomena, events and show their common features and peculiarities: ( for example, to compare different professions, heroes of fiction books and so on)
||To form an oral connected speech describing persons, things, phenomena, events
and express one’s own opinion: (for example, to make a report on professional preferences of high school pupils)
The teacher can be satisfied with the narrative speech of a pupil of low level if the latter forms his or her speech approximately in this way: I want to become an economist. I think that it is one of the most important specialties wanted in our country. Economists know how to organize our economy. Economists calculate how much to import or export this or that product. Bank clerks are paid higher than teachers or doctors.
Here is a sample narrative speech of a middle level pupil: There are different professions and specialties. We should choose the one which best meets our capabilities and desires. If I don’t have a sympathetic heart, I shouldn’t apply to a medical college. If I don’t have good knowledge, I shouldn’t apply to the faculty of physics. If I am not good at languages, I shouldn’t apply to the faculty of interpreters or translators. And only if I have a sympathetic heart, good knowledge and fluency in languages, I can gain the right to become a teacher.
Here is a sample narrative speech of a high level pupil: In our country most of the brilliant students of high schools are eager to become economists. They consider this specialty to be prospective and profitable. A large number of school leavers have a desire to become computer programmers as it is considered to be very interesting and at the same time more profitable than that of an economist’s. …
Here is a text of problem solving for the high level pupils
You have been washed up alone on a desert island after your ship sank. The island is very small and has no water and only a few trees. You have seen some birds but no other animals. There is a small lifeboat containing some useful things two miles from your island. It is also sinking. You have enough time and energy left to swim to it and remove five items only and bring them to your island. With your partner(s) decide which five you want to take and give reasons for your choices.
- 20 meters of rope
- 20 liters of fresh water
- a radio
- 20 tins of food
- a box of matches
- a torch
- a gun
- a knife
- a first aid kit
- a bottle of whisky
- signal flares
- warm clothes
- a mobile phone
- a small dog
- a book about the fish in this area
- 6 bars of chocolate
Here are some samples of standards for reading comprehension at high schools:
|To read and comprehend satisfactorily enough adapted short and simple texts within the scope of a known theme with frequently used vocabulary
||To read and comprehend adapted texts within the scope of a known theme guessing the meaning of some unknown words by means of word forming components or international words
||To read and comprehend original texts within the scope of pupils’ interests defining the theme of the text, the type of the text and the basic goal of the narration.
As in elementary and middle schools in high schools as well there are pupils of different levels. At high school the teacher gives the pupils to read some texts. There are three versions of each story for the pupils of different levels.
For example for the pupils of the low level the teacher gives the following text to read:
“A Thief’s Story” A
Once upon a time, there was a poor family. They had one son. This son often went out to steal things. Every time he brought something home, his mother was happy. Once he brought her some eggs. She didn’t ask him how and where he got them. She just said, “That’s very good.”
Many years passed. The little boy grew up and became a fulltime thief. One day the police caught him and took him to jail. The court said that he must die for his crimes. But before dying, he could have one last wish.
The son asked for his mother. He said that he wanted to see her tongue. The mother came and stuck out her tongue. Then the son cut his mother’s tongue until it was bleeding. Everyone was surprised. They wanted to know why he had hurt his mother.
The son answered, “My mother did not tell me that it is wrong to steal. And so I am here now.”
The court judge decided that the son should not die. The son became an honest man, and lived to an old age.
After reading this text the pupils of the low level comprehend the text in a sufficient degree. They comprehend the texts that are simple and brief, with the vocabulary that they often meet. Version A of the text uses less complex structures and more limited vocabulary.
At the same time the teacher gives the pupils of the middle level to read the same text, which version uses a greater variety of structures and is more idiomatic.
“A Thief’s Story” B
Once upon a time, there was a poor family who had one son. He used to go out and steal things. Whatever he brought home, his mother accepted. Once he brought back some eggs. Instead of asking him how and where he got them, she just praised him and said, “Well done!”
Years passed. The little boy grew up and became a professional thief. The police arrested him, and took him to prison. The court sentenced him to death. When he was given one last request, he asked the jailors to bring his mother to him so that he could see her tongue.
When the mother came, she stuck her tongue out. The son reached over and cut it until it bled. Everyone was astonished and wondered why he had done such a thing.
The son explained: “Instead of warning me not to steal, my mother praised me. If she had told me it was wrong to take things that belong to someone else, I would not be here now.”
Later he was forgiven. He became an honest man, and lived to a ripe old age.
After reading this text the pupils of the middle level try to understand the text, which concerns their interest. The pupils of this level try to guess the meaning of some unknown words by means of word making components, contexts and international words.
For the pupils of the high level the teacher gives the same text, but which is much more difficult than the previous two ones.
“A Thief’s Story” C
Once upon a time, there was a poor family. They had one son, who was a very adroit boy. As the family could hardly make both ends meet, the boy often went out to steal things. Whatever he brought home- it could be food gold or something like that, his mother accepted. One winter day he brought back some eggs. Instead of asking him about the origin of those eggs the mother appreciated her son’s deed
by saying, ”Well done, my dear. Continue like this!”
After many years the little boy grew up and became a professional thief. His picture was stuck in every corner of the streets. But this wonderful life was soon over as the police arrested him, and took him to prison. During the trial the court found him guilty and sentenced him to death. When he was given one last request, he asked the jailors to bring his mother to him so that he could see her tongue.
Everybody was surprised to listen to such kind of wish from the thief’s mouth. After some time, when his mother came, she stuck her tongue out. The son reached over and cut it until it bled. Seeing this everyone was astonished and wondered why he had done such a thing.
The son explained: “Instead of warning me not to steal, my mother praised me. If she had told me before it was wrong to take things that belonged to someone else, I wouldn’t have been sentenced to death.”
Listening to all these, the judge decided not to punish him and pleaded him not guilty.
Later he became an honest man, found a good job and lived happily to a ripe old age.
After reading this text the pupils of the high level try to give their own opinion and attitude towards this text. They must define the subject and the main problems of the text.
The advantage of graded activities like these is that everyone is working on the same text at a level they find comfortable. The main disadvantage is that teachers need to prepare more material for a lesson.
Arising out of the main points presented above, I can come to the conclusion that the problem of mixed ability classes is highly actual as thousands of English teachers in Armenia are now thinking over the new demands put forward by the educational reforms in our country. One of the main objectives is that the new approach is taking into account the three-level standards of teaching-learning foreign languages.
Teachers mustn’t neglect the pupils who are less capable than others. There are a great variety of classroom activities by means of which they can overcome the difficulty of mixed ability classes.
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ØÇçÝ³Ï³ñ· ÏñÃáõÃÛ³Ý å»ï³Ï³Ý ã³÷áñáßÇã, 2004
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L.G.Alexander “Practice and Progress”
David Seymour & Maria Popova “ 700 Classroom Activities” 2005
Michael Swan “The NewCambridgeEnglish Course”