The Challenges of Teaching Classes Of Mixed Ages and Abilities Quite obviously, any teacher that has a


Quite obviously, any teacher that has a class of students of mixed ages and abilities will have challenges. Where to start' Do you meet the needs of those more advanced, or do you spend most of your time helping those with lesser skills catch up' Then add to the mix, perhaps pre-puberty learners (8 to 12 year olds), early teenage learners, (13 to 17 year olds) and young adults, 18 up.

In our curriculum, International TEFL Teacher Training (ITTT), there are numerous sections discussing the differences and abilities required to teach those of various ages and abilities. Unit 1, "Teachers and Learners" particularly pointed out that teaching younger learners has advantages and disadvantages. The younger learners, those under age 18, may not be as skilled in their native language, so they may be more willing to launch into a new language. However, they will not have the advanced life experiences, which gives the teacher less to build their lessons upon. Whereas, the young adults will have more life experiences, and a better grasp of their native language, but they may not feel as free to express themselves for fear of making mistakes in front of their peers.

English Grammar in Use, Third Edition, by Raymond Murphy, is an excellent book to use in teaching intermediate students, students who have already studied the basic grammar of English. Advanced students may also benefit from the grammar building skills. However, it is not suitable for elementary age learners, as they will not have the grammar skills required to follow the directions. This can be a challenge for the teacher who has gone into an area to spend a period of time teaching English to foreign learners, as the teacher will have to bring books and carrying an assortment of books could be difficult. However, the teacher could modify some of these lessons to make them less intimidating to the younger or lesser skilled learners. There again, this will require more work from the teacher as the teacher will need to develop exercises of varying degrees rather than just printing off one set of exercises.

Teaching English One to One by Jane Downman and John Shepheard is an excellent resource for the teacher. It is especially useful to the new teacher of English to those of other languages, as it provides ideas and skills to build the teacher´s confidence. It is also helpful to the experienced EFL teacher, as it will increase the teacher´s range of materials and skills to keeping the teaching fresh and enjoyable. Although the emphasis of this particular book is on a teacher working with one student, versus a group of students, the same principle could be used in working with one group of students of similar ages and abilities. This book explains how the teacher would assess the student´s interest in learning English and current vocabulary and grammar levels, then the teacher would group those of closest interests, ages and abilities together to form classes.

Unit 9 of International TEFL Teacher Training (ITTT), 'Teaching receptive skills-reading and listening,' discusses the need for having topics of interest and the importance of creating interest in lessons if we want students to become productive in reading and listening. However, knowing the interests of mixed ages and students of ability would be very challenging. Also, creating lessons around interests for all ages would be most difficult. For young learners, the teacher would have them discussing such topics as playing games and fairy tales. Of course, the older students wouldn't enjoy this and would prefer topics of perhaps local news, current music or fashion trends, and even travel. Again in Unit 16 of International TEFL Teacher Training (ITTT), there is discussion of using authentic or created materials. It mentions that authentic materials must be geared to the interests of a particular group of students, which would be difficult to accomplish if the students were of varied ages and abilities. In using created materials, if the teacher had crosswords and word search puzzles, they would have to be adapted for the young learner to understand but could be more challenging for the more advanced learners. Difficult for the teacher to do!

Teaching English One to One by Jane Downman and John Shepheard has an interesting section on playing matching games and doing activities with the students. This would present a very difficult situation for the teacher of varied ages and abilities, since the young learners wouldn't have the same ability to comprehend the rules and sequences for the games and activities as the young adults would.

In conclusion, when given a choice, it would appear the teacher would prefer to teach smaller classes of students of similar ages, interests and abilities. This would give the teacher more flexibility in presenting interesting materials and motivating the students to learn at a quicker pace.

Finished ' Betty Joanna Gresham ' 11/29/06