Teaching English in a Large Multilevel
                                        Class
             上海市奉贤区致远高级中学            ...
should be on the enhancement of the capacities of learners at all levels. Only when the
gifts and human potentials of all ...
focus on preview and prefer to get access to the contents and structures individually,
while some others may lay emphasis ...
3.3 Plenty of chances for interaction
In a small class, learners know each other very well, and hence may lose interest in...
to use one another as language resources. Group work, pair work, peer comment,
brainstorming, collaborative writing, colla...
If the class has been very active, it is time for a reflective activity. Besides, learners at
different levels can be give...
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Teaching large multilevel classes

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Teaching large multilevel classes

  1. 1. Teaching English in a Large Multilevel Class 上海市奉贤区致远高级中学 吕敏英 (201400) Abstract Large multilevel class teaching is a major mode being used in most schools in China. There exist many constraints on effective English teaching in such environment. The article discusses some problems involved and outlines the possible benefits. On the basis of the brief analysis, a few suggestions, in the light of current education thinking to enhance classroom practice, are presented to see to it that English teaching in a large multilevel class is successful. Key words: large multilevel class; English teaching 1. Introduction There has been some research on large multilevel class teaching in developed countries, though the definition of large class may be slightly different from that in developing countries. British professor of education Natalie Hess defines large classes as “classes of thirty or more students in elementary, secondary, adult, and tertiary settings” and she defines multilevel classes as “the kinds of classes that have been roughly arranged according to ability, or simply classes that have been arranged according to age-group with no thought to language ability. These are classes in which students vary considerably in their language and literacy skills.” According to the current situation of China’s education, a large multilevel class is defined in this paper as a class that has 50 learners or more in elementary, secondary and tertiary education settings, in which learners are roughly classified by age-stage without considering their language ability. The level, aptitude and attitude the learners have on language are totally different. Such classes are in need of a great deal of special attention and encouragement to make progress. President of China Jiang zeming addressed at the third National Educational Conference in 1999, “Education must face all the students and open up their full human potential. The major goal in education should be fostering students’ creativity and practical capacities.” It indicates that the focus of current education in China 1
  2. 2. should be on the enhancement of the capacities of learners at all levels. Only when the gifts and human potentials of all learners are fully cultivated, can the quality of the whole nation’s education be further developed and fill the requirements of 21 st century. Since the teaching and learning of English, as a foreign language, is mostly conducted in large multilevel classes in China, it is quite essential that strategies of coping with large multilevel class English teaching be explored and promoted. The writer is carrying on the research on the strategies of successful large multilevel class English teaching, hoping to provide advice for the language teachers who work with large multilevel classes. 2. Problems of working with a large multilevel class Due to the mixed-ability grouping as well as the large class size, there unavoidably exist many constraints on effective large multilevel class English teaching. The major problems may be as follows. 2.1. Classroom organization A large multilevel class is normally fully occupied, and hence appears to be crowded, which will bring about a lot of problems relevant to classroom organization. For instance, when a teacher uses group work, there might be chaos in the classroom with so many seats moved, which may cause an unpleasant English learning atmosphere. Besides, the teacher has to speak aloud to make sure every one can hear him/her clearly, which will make him/her exhausted. Language communication between the teacher and learners and peer work among the learners become difficult due to visual and physical obstacles. Consequently, classroom may even be out of control at some circumstances. 2.2 Excessive check work Dealing with a large multilevel class, the English teacher has to check over 50 written or oral assignments each day so as to give the learners immediate feedback or comments. This is really a huge and tedious task, which will occupy most of teacher’s work time, making him/her unable to respond every individual properly, leaving him/ her little time to make teaching preparation, to say nothing of self-development. 2.3 Satisfying various learning styles Each of the learners has his/her own way to follow English lessons, accept the knowledge and develop language competences through classroom practice, which of course are quite different at many aspects. Take text study for example. Some learners 2
  3. 3. focus on preview and prefer to get access to the contents and structures individually, while some others may lay emphasis on review and choose to work on the text with the instruction of the teacher in the whole class. A large multilevel class usually involves more learning styles, which is difficult to provide proper teachings to meet the demand for each style and seems more difficult to cater for the needs of every individual learner. 2.4 Having learners activated To make learners concentrated, to have them involved, and to get them promptly responded have always been the essential aims every English teacher tries to reach. However, the tasks of activities in a large multilevel class are usually not individualized. And the interaction between the teacher and the whole class usually occurs more, during which only a small part of the learners participate actively in the classroom activities, with most of them not activated and some even feeling bored, which seems quite discouraging. 3. Benefits of dealing with a large multilevel class As indicated above, teaching English in a large multilevel class is really tedious, exhausting and demanding work. However, teachers may not have realized that it is a challenging and interesting job as well. A few benefits of this are as follows. 3.1 Obtaining more knowledge In a large multilevel class, more comments, more references, more personal experience, as well as more learning styles may be found, which will help both the teacher and learners a lot over many aspects. Teachers will be pushed to prepare lessons carefully in order to present an interesting, multi-inclusive, and learner- centered lecture. Learners can benefit from mutual learning and obtain more knowledge through classroom communication. Thus English learning atmosphere may be promoted by presenting an informative lecture or by organizing an attractive communication. 3.2 Enhancing mutual learning Multilevel grouping provides more chances to allow the more capable learners to improve their English by making explanation, stating clearly, and giving effective examples to the others. Meanwhile it supplies the less capable ones with considerable support as well. Such cooperative, interdependent learning will enhance a positive mutual learning, which is definitely beneficial to all levels of learners. 3
  4. 4. 3.3 Plenty of chances for interaction In a small class, learners know each other very well, and hence may lose interest in interaction, which will lead to a dull English learning atmosphere short of dynamics. However, in a large multilevel class, learners may be easy to motivate and interaction among them may be more active, since they are exposed to more chances to interact with new fellows, which seems more challenging to them. 4. Suggestions on coping with a large multilevel class Considering the problems and benefits related to English teaching in a large multilevel class, a few suggestions as regards the issues are given as follows. 4.1 Proper layout of seats Seats need to be rearranged in the classroom. Instead of simply rowing with isolated lines, seats may be laid around one or two desks to allow learners to be classified into a number of groups, arranged either by the same level or by mixed levels according to different tasks of activities. Learners can be informed of the group arrangement before each activity. Such layout of seats will make it not only easier for learners to carry on their group work such as brainstorming, peer learning as well as discovery way of learning, but more convenient for the teacher to give appropriate support to different groups as well. 4.2 Encouraging participation In a large multilevel class, to encourage as many learners as possible to participate in classroom activities is what every teacher has to attain. Several ways can serve this purpose.  Giving a question before calling the name to respond, and leaving plenty of time to allow learners to think.  Waiting patiently until many learners are willing to respond instead of choosing the first one who has volunteered to give an answer.  Listening carefully when the learner is talking about a personal topic, even if the topic is beyond our lesson plan, for the topic may be far more interesting to learners than what we originally planned.  Not disturbing the learner who is giving the answer to the question and not forgetting to give immediate positive feedback to any participant. 4.3 Involving learners in collaboration Collaborative learning is a must in a large multilevel class. Since a teacher is not able to serve the immediate needs of all learners at the same time, learners must soon learn 4
  5. 5. to use one another as language resources. Group work, pair work, peer comment, brainstorming, collaborative writing, collaborative community projects, and group poster presentations are all best solutions to involving learners in collaboration. Through such learning, learners participate more, and they get to learn how to cooperate with one another, how to get self-improvement, and will become more efficient English learners. 4.4 Employing self-assessment as well as peer-assessment A large multilevel class teacher can hardly provide each learner with immediate feedback or comments on his work, and therefore it is essential for learners to be taught how to make self-assessment as well as peer-assessment themselves. Self- assessment requires learners to self-monitor their own English learning processes and abilities, which makes a powerful impact on their becoming independent English learners. Peer-assessment helps to develop learners’ awareness of personal strengths and weakness, and gives a learner the benefit of another’s perspective. These two sorts of assessments can apply to all levels of English learners, who will consequently become responsible for their own learning. 4.5 Promoting individualization In a large multilevel class it is most important to create activities that can keep more advanced learners feeling challenging and at the same time allow the less advanced learners to make progress at their own pace. Teachers can individualize tasks in two ways---they can use the same material in different ways, or they can use different materials in the same way. The other effective way to promote individualization is self-access center. A self-access center of English may be some special projects, such as individualized selected readings, specialized vocabulary lists, listening tapes, and pictures that the teacher or learners have collected for the learners who need extra work or specialized attention. Such self-access center enables learners to work on aspects of English they need to practice and the climate in the classroom is more accessible and pleasant. 4.6 Variable way of conducting teaching The principle of variety will help to energize English teaching, especially in a large multilevel class. To stimulate all learners’ interest over the whole learning process, the ways of teaching English need to be variable and flexible. For example, if the learners have been reading silently for a while, let them join partners and read to one another. 5
  6. 6. If the class has been very active, it is time for a reflective activity. Besides, learners at different levels can be given different tasks. More capable learners can do more demanding tasks while the less capable ones can deal with less challenging work. Furthermore, game-like activities with clear goals and motivating processes can be created to guide learners through involving tasks into thoughtful and insightful use of English. In addition, the proper use of attractive visuals, problem solving processes, and role-plays can all get learners deeply absorbed. 5. Conclusion In this article, the problems and benefits of teaching English in a large multilevel class are analyzed. On the basis of the brief analysis, the ways to conduct effective English teaching in a large multilevel class are discussed. Since large multilevel class English teaching is still a major mode being used in elementary and secondary education in China, discussion on how to improve such teaching is undoubtedly of great significance. To promote the process, a few personal views related to the topic are presented in the light of current education thinking to enhance classroom practice. I would be much pleased if this could make a minor contribution to current English classroom teaching. Any comments or feedback as regards this would be more than welcomed and greatly appreciated. References 1. Anne Convery and Do Coyle, Differentiation and individual learners (CILT, 1999) 2. Leslie Dickinson, Learner Autonomy (Authentik, 1992) 3. Natalie Hess, Teaching Large Multilevel Classes (Cambridge, 2001) 4.华国栋,《差异教学论》,教育出版社,2002,2 6

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