Beginners of mixed ability

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Beginners of mixed ability

Unread postby RoryG » 08 Mar 2013, 01:00

Hi Lucy,

I've recently started teaching again T.E.F.L after a break of ten years. I use a communicative approach and try to get students speaking as much as possible.

At the moment I'm teaching an A1 group which is a mixture of absolute and false beginners. The students' ages range from 20 to 60 years old. We're using the "Speakout" book which is published by the BBC. I've been methodical and stressed things like the third person of the present simple and made sure we practised the grammar points through speaking activities.

A student from another group joined mine recently and told my students that her old group is on Unit 5 (we're on Unit 3). I knew this before, as all the teachers regulary meet and we compile the exams for all the groups at the end of the (100 hours) course.

My students are now worried that we're not moving fast enough, eventhough I assured them that there will be nothing in the exam that they haven't seen in class. What annoys me is that the new student asks questions about very basic stuff and is well below the average level of my class. A composition she submitted was also full of mistakes, so much for being two units ahead.

At the end of today's class there was a discussion about this in the students' first language. Some of them are ridiculously unrealistic. One girl who misses a lot of classes but wants "to get a B1 (PET) as soon as possible" told me "Rory, I think we should speed things up." Not in a nasty way, but I was stunned taking this from someone who hardly ever comes and has never submitted any work. There was some good input from another student who suggested more speaking in class, but to be honest, I ask everyone questions everyday and don't know how to do any more. I would be open to your suggestions, though.

I want to keep improving as a teacher and maybe I could be a little faster, I don't know, but as I told them in their first language today, the fundamentals need to be well-understood.

Sorry for the long post, but what how do you think I should proceed?
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Re: Beginners of mixed ability

Unread postby Lucy » 09 Mar 2013, 11:39

Hi Rory,

You’re taking the right approach to teaching these students; I agree totally with what you are doing. In can be hard at times when students don’t understand the approach. You are right and students can be unrealistic about how much progress can be made.

I’m guessing that this is the first time you’ve had such a chat with them. Give them time. They’ll go away and think about it and may well come back to the next lesson with a slightly altered opinion (you can always hope). At the very least, allow your own mind to be open to the fact that they may change.

You can also take into account what they want: do more speaking activities and possibly an exercise from some future unit (pick a vocabulary, skills or pronunciation exercise that won’t interfere with the progression through grammar). They’ll feel that their needs are being catered to. Remember to always preface these activities with: you asked me for more speaking or you asked me to move forward in the book, so I’m doing that.

I suggest you have the same chat again in a few days. Ask them what their opinion is; has it altered? You can draw a parallel with building a house: the foundations have to be solid before building the ground floor, adding the first floor, etc. If the foundations are not solid, the house falls down.
I find students can understand and relate to this. Failing this, and really as a last resort, give them all a test when the new student is in class and find a way to have the results made public. Make sure not to humiliate anybody but just let the results and your arguments speak for themselves!

Lucy
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Re: Beginners of mixed ability

Unread postby RoryG » 10 Mar 2013, 13:43

Thanks Lucy, great advice.

I'll keep you posted.
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Re: Beginners of mixed ability

Unread postby Lucy » 10 Mar 2013, 19:36

yes, do let us know how it goes!
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Re: Beginners of mixed ability

Unread postby Alex Case » 11 Mar 2013, 08:39

I'm not sure if taking things slowly but surely is usually the best approach with Beginner/ False Beginner/ Elementary students. The best illustration of that is to think about what it is likely to take to get that student to PET level as quickly as possible (although obviously not half as quickly as they expect, whatever you do). Seeing as they will still be making mistakes with third person S at that stage (it's late acquired) and it won't stop them passing PET, focussing on that and other basic grammatical accuracy is not what they need. In my opinion and from my own experience, what you need at low levels is enough understanding (especially of vocabulary such as common verbs) to be able to cope in and learn from real communication and Intermediate level texts. That is one reason why people in an English speaking country inevitably progress quicker than someone taking a slow, step by step approach back home. My two most common approaches when given a beginner/ Elementary textbook class would therefore be to get through it as quick as they are comfortable with so that they can get onto more stimulating stuff that they'd learn more from like longer texts and roleplays or (more commonly) to go through at the pace set by the school and add loads more vocabulary, functional language, and chances for real communication.

Having said all that, there are classes with which I would take a slow step by step approach, e.g:
- Older students
- Students who lack confidence
- Students who have gone through the level before somewhere else and are still genuinely beginner/ Elementary because they didn't really understand what they were going through at the time
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Re: Beginners of mixed ability

Unread postby RoryG » 25 Apr 2013, 22:02

Well, things have improved. I jumped forward a few units to the Past Simple and after a few weeks of that we did some reading, "Five Canterbury Tales" (Oxford) which is 80% Past Simple.

Everyone's happy, the new student never misses a class, thinks I'm "so funny" and told the rest of them that she's studying two hours a day. She's also speaking more and has improved immeasurably since she joined my class.

Thanks for your advice, Alex and Lucy.
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Re: Beginners of mixed ability

Unread postby Lucy » 27 Apr 2013, 17:47

You're welcome.
Glad it went well and thanks for the feedback.
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