Posted by Peggy Sharma
The insistence from my end is always on enjoying the process rather than getting bogged down with the grammatical details. I ensure that the learners embed themselves in the language and are able to confidently hold a conversation (depending on their level).
Teaching English (with focus specifically on spoken English) is almost synonymous with customizing lessons to meet the requirement of the ELL. During group sessions it is almost impossible to have an absolutely homogeneous group - the learners are always at either slightly varied levels or learning styles.
On talking to a few of my co-teachers, we agreed that ‘Differentiation’ is certainly required in the content, teaching process and in the the use of ongoing assessment. There is no state mandated curriculum or content to be followed and in fact sky is the limit: there however, is a broad outline in terms of the structures and nuances to be conveyed to the students. The insistence from my end is always on enjoying the process rather than getting bogged down with the grammatical details. I ensure that the learners embed themselves in the language and are able to confidently hold a conversation (depending on their level). For example:
Lesson Goal: Talk about travel plans in the near future (use future/progressive/going to)
Class makeup: A group of 4 low-mid level learners, each one is however at a slightly differing ability level. While one has a good grammatical knowledge, the other is more adept at speaking fluently.
During the production activity, which is the penultimate part of every learning cycle, the learners are absolutely free to express their dialogues. The slightly lower level learners form short sentences and keep the presentation simple. The more confident students use a mix of all tenses and are definitely more expressive. While the higher-level students are self-starters, the lower level learners certainly need a bit of a push.
A quick demo of the task at hand is a great way to set the stage for the activity. The lower level learners are happy to replicate with slight variation. I constantly move around the classroom and individually advise and connect with the students. At this juncture, the lower level students are happy to be assisted by the higher-level students. A simple gesture indicating that help/feedback may be offered, instantly makes the entire activity more cohesive. This works to the advantage of both categories of learners because while one gets the help needed, the higher-level student feels more of a sense of achievement. The instructor has to be a facilitator in this scenario, closely watching and observing all the participants.
As a teacher one has to use differentiated instruction and teaching approaches to match the students’ learning styles. While all language learners may have the same learning goal, a one-size-fits-all approach would certainly not suffice. During a session where learners are at varied levels, ample collaboration happens and is to be encouraged. Every student brings on board a certain uniqueness, experiences and characteristics. This leads to a diverse group which forms a very dynamic environment for language learning.
Assigning open-ended tasks is yet another great way to handle a group with differentiated learning levels. These could include talking about personal experiences, incidents or enacting role plays based on the learners’ individual encounters. The teacher must remain a moderator. I often prompt the higher-level learners to peer correct and this encourages the lower level students to also look out for errors while listening to others. The lower level students then start actively giving peer feedback too. This approach is challenging and a bit enticing too – it certainly keeps my learners on their toes!
Peggy Sharma (Tesol Certified Advanced ESL Practitioner)