Teach English in Wenqiao Zhen - Yueyang Shi

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There’s a sizeable niche of scholarly material on how to teach classes of mixed ability. It’s a complex topic, and I don’t believe it would be reasonable to expect that I can find the magic method in one good think. Therefore, let me inform the reader that my essay is structured this way: before I begin discussing what greater minds than mine have said on the matter, I will try to predict what challenges I can. After, I will use sources to fill in the gaps where my imagination was lacking. I know that there isn’t one small change you can make to your teaching style to address the needs of the students, but there must be many; I can imagine that any actions you can take will be confined by the resources or specifications of the client, though you must remain driven to meet your students at whatever level you find they are on. Teaching one way would be out of the question if the level disparity is too large. I think you should treat it as many classes in one room together. If you have many students of a similar level, I think it would help to connect them to each other, so they feel that they are not competing against someone too far above or below their level. In a business setting, I recognize that it would be tricky to reconcile the workplace hierarchy with an academic hierarchy, so instead of physically separating them into groups, I would use light group projects as a way to encourage communication and teamwork amongst the same rung of ability. Beyond that, it’s hard for me to figure out what the teacher can change. I suppose the only things you can change come from yourself. That’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s up to the teacher to provide supplementary materials for higher and lower levels, to divide the class time appropriately to address the different groups, and to devise the most appropriate way to bring the weaker students up. After considering the matter independently, I found a very helpful study on mixed-ability methods conducted by Paula Montes Reyes and Jesús Formoso Rodríguez (for the purposes of an exam and under scrutiny by a panel of examiners) which used structured interviews of experienced English teachers to determine which methods or combinations of methods were the most successful. While the study was conducted in the context of secondary and upper-secondary education, I believe the patterns it revealed are still extremely valid for teaching business learners. The study found that the older students tended to self-select groups of the same motivation and skill level (p.22). I believe in a workplace this would be extremely evident, as adult students are busy people who don’t have the time to carry coworkers who don’t participate, nor should they be forced to. Therefore, my previous strategy of unofficially dividing the class into skill levels might be made easier by observing which groups they naturally fall into, and endeavoring to work with those existing group formations. Of course, mixed groups are still necessary for better learning, because as one of the teachers in the study pointed out, “[advanced students] reach the weak ones better than I do since they think along the same lines” (p.22). Groups of mixed ability level are not to be avoided, but I think the distinction is that they are more useful in stages of studying, while dividing students into ability levels (or “streaming” as the study called it) is more useful during instruction. Another point of importance to the teachers was how to assess and engage shy students. While I think the difference in life experience between adults and children may have an effect on how shy they are, the English classroom can still bring out the shy student in those who are unfamiliar with the language or easily embarrassed, so it should still be examined. All the participating teachers seemed to agree that the only solution was small groups, pairs, and individual presentations with the teacher. Businesspeople can expect that they won’t be afforded those concessions in the “real world”, but perhaps it may be helpful to employ these methods in the first half of your time together, because a successful start must be made in any way possible. A benefit I see in business English is that it’s specialized. Creativity is desired, but not crucial; presentations/content can be highly structured, and this might afford some comfort to less confident students when they must speak in front of groups in a new language. The study also stressed that “teaching to the middle” is not as effective as individualized instruction (p.7). The teachers had different applications of this philosophy, but still agreed that it was necessary. Some individualized to the extent that they taught differently to different classes (general, specific, advanced, more thorough, etc.) and some allowed the students varying degrees of independent/self-directed study. While independent study may not be an option in the business classroom for time reasons, this does make me more confident in my decision that level-based teaching is necessary. As far as practical tips go, IELTS.com, a website founded by an experienced ESL teacher who is successful abroad, has these suggestions for the mixed-ability classroom: the teacher should 1) provide extra work for advanced students (the study agrees, though it warns the work must be somewhat fun so as not to be taken like a punishment (p.28)), 2) group students carefully, 3) spend more time helping the weaker students, 4) add variety to the class, and 5) adapt materials. These are excellent tips for keeping both advanced students and weaker students engaged without teaching to the middle, so I think they are more than compliant with the findings of the study. In conclusion, there is no one way to successfully mitigate the challenge of a mixed-ability classroom. However, with vigilance and flexibility on the teacher’s part, many adjustments can and must be made to keep the individual students engaged. Academic study: https://muep.mau.se/bitstream/handle/2043/1954/Examen+Paula+o+Jes?s[1].pdf?sequence=1 IELTS article: https://ielts-teaching.com/mixed-ability-classes/