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W. P. - U.S.A. said:
Classes of Mixed AbilityThe tall boy sleeps every class. Five weeks into the school year, I decided to wake him up. I shook his arm, and when he looked at me, I asked him what I thought was a simple question. ?What?s your name?? I asked. The tall boy didn?t say anything. He stared at me. ?You name?? I repeated it, slower. ?What is your name?? Although I would try for another minute or two, the tall boy never answered. In a class of thirty-five korean students, his level of English was the lowest. Of course he knew his name ? he just didn?t know that I was asking for it. In any mixed level class, there will likely be at least one student like the tall boy. These are the kids with no names, the students who are working at a level of ability so much lower than the rest of the class that they?ve given up. It?s easy to let them sleep or work on homework from other classes. Sometimes the kid with no name will make himself known more quickly by talking endlessly in his mother tongue and disrupting the classroom without regard. When he is confronted, the kid with no name might know two words of English, and they are likely ?No? and ?English.? What can a teacher do to incorporate a child who is so far behind and has so little motivation? Your class is probably not the first English class this student has taken, and as a teacher it is up to you to succeed where previous native English teachers have failed. A good first step is to realize that to reach this student, something has to be done that the other teachers probably were not willing to do ? some major effort must be put forth on the part of the teacher. A good first step in reaching a student like this is to have someone who speaks the mother language assist with a needs analysis. This would not be exactly the same as a needs analysis one might give an adult learner. It is already clear that this student is working on a novice level and has little or no interest in learning English. Still, that question should be asked: What would you like to learn? The more important questions of this analysis, though, are not so much the ?why? questions, but the ?how? and ?what? questions. How does this student like to learn? What types of things is the student good at? What does the student like to do? Knowing this information can be invaluable. We know the student does NOT like English. But if we learn the student likes drawing, or music, or animals, all of these things can be used and incorporated to best reach that student. Secondly, to help this student grow as much as possible, some individualized learning techniques can be employed. After class one day, sit down with the student and create a portfolio. Keeping completed work and building a concrete portfolio can help involve and motivate the student. Writing journals and student made dictionaries are also a good idea. Maybe your student can?t keep up with the majority of the lesson, but he/she can at least take a few words and create dictionary entries for them. Constructing a work access center is also a good idea ? a place, maybe as simple as a paper taped to the wall, where the student can go to find the answers to questions or the directions to a task written in the mother tongue. There are other strong ways to incorporate the novice learner in the mixed level class. Offer a choice of task to the student. Having the autonomy to select his/her own assignment for the class will increase the student?s feeling of responsibility towards learning the language (or at least completing the task). Calling on the student to answer questions involves the student in class, although the teacher must know that the student can answer the question before calling on him/her. Go over the answer with the student before asking the question to the class, even rehearse it. Most students like answering questions. Knowing what your student will say before he says it is essential to having that student answer a question in class. Lastly, project work is a strong idea. Having the student use English while completing a greater project will directly involve him/her in the task, while indirectly involving him/her with the language. Other ideas like pair work and choral response are strong as well, though more obvious and less individualized. Mixed level classes are greatly challenging, and there is no student as difficult to reach as the child who has no level of involvement with the English language. Like the tall boy in my story earlier, these students are not even able to answer a question like ?what is your name?? However, with dedication and a high level of creativity, a strong teacher can not only get that student to answer a question like that, but even, with some good hard work, ask it back.