Tesol Convention in Peru

Tesol Convention in Peru

The TESOL Convention was held two weeks ago in Chiclayo, Peru. It owed its success to the organizers and speakers that came from all over the world, but also to its 400 participants that made their ways from different Peruvian regions. (Apurimac, Tacna, Amazonas, Lambayeque, Lima and many others!)

The topic this year was English: Paths to success and I think no other topic could have been more suitable. It makes no doubt that English is the way to go in our globalized world. English as a key to unlock doors to knowledge and opportunities. We were invited to deliver speeches and give demonstrations about how English can be best used and developed in ELT classes and to tell you the truth 3 days were not enough to explore all the different strategies we talked about!

Not only does the TESOL give the opportunity to develop skills and learn new tricks to make English lessons better in terms of content and progression, but it is also an invaluable tool to meet people from different teaching contexts and to make links to further our knowledge in teaching. I have always found that meeting other teacher trainers with varied perspectives about education and teaching can broaden your mind and it is a critical asset that allows to rethink your work under a different angle.

Events like this are keys to ensure the professional development of teachers and in the unity of teachers.  Last year, Dr. Yilin Sun, the President of TESOL International explained that “ (teachers) should take every opportunity to improve on (their) practice, that’s what will lead to the path of teacher leadership”.

This year, in an inspirational opening plenary Laura G. Holland, from the University of Oregon opened up the audience’s mind on the importance of collegiality. Building our knowledge as teachers, as leaders but also as colleagues because the improvement in education will come through our ability to consider ourselves as an integrant part of a teaching community.
This year, participants and speakers went one step closer to leadership by putting the efforts into working together. Through the wide variety of workshops and proposed activities, there was room of each and everyone.

The Peru TESOL convention 2017 has one more time proven that it could gather teachers and speakers around a global theme. Teachers should now try to see themselves as leaders, and they should also see themselves as members of a large family willing to endlessly improve for the good of their students, their own good and the good of the whole society.

Check some of the workshops and talks that were delivered during the TESOL:

  1. Peer observation
  2. Speak up! Strategies to promote communication in class
  3. Grammar: Innovative strategies to motivate, Engage and Challenge everyone
  4. Teaching mixed-ability classes
  5. Teaching and Learning with the 21st century technology

1. Peer observation

Getting formally observed is usually an activity teachers are a bit reluctant to go through. Observations usually mean that a manager is going to observe your class and give you a grade at the end of it. The point of formal observations is to assess the skills and techniques of teachers. No doubt it can be scary! However, peer observation is very different in the sense that there is no grade or pressure as the idea is to help you improve on your skills and strengthen your existing abilities as a teacher.

In her workshop Peer observation made easy: Tips, Strategies and Leadership, Laura G. Holland shared ideas and peer observation models to make peer observations valuable tools for every teacher. So, are you ready to taste a recipe for successful peer observations?

Define the benefits of peer observation

Peer observations should happen in a non-threatening environment. An environment of trust, mutual respect and willingness to learn from one another. Because what is peer observation if not learning? You gain knowledge by being observed and by observing your peers. What are the implications of peer observations? What do you expect to earn from the process?

The challenges

The main challenge is Time. Finding time to set up such a process can be difficult if it is not already part of your school culture. The lack of administrative support can also be considered as an obstacle. Some teachers might not be willing to play the game. Some might consider themselves too experienced, while others might lack confidence to engage in the process.

Step-by-step

  • Find a colleague you trust and you know will be non-judgmental.
  • Set common rules. What do you want to observe and why? What do you want to be observed on? How long will the observation process take place? When will you meet for a feedback?
  • Explain to your students beforehand the purpose of your colleague’s presence. You want a class that sounds as normal as it typically is.
  • Deliver your class as you would normally do. If you are the one observing the class, take as many notes as possible. Make sure they are clear and organized to read through them after the lesson.
  • Try to meet as soon as the class is done to keep all your ideas fresh.
  • Engage in a sensitive discussion where you will discuss all the positive elements of the observation.
  • Feedback on only 3 main points that you consider essential for further development.
  • Be sensitive to each other and super positive. In some peer observation models, there is no negative feedback of any kind. That type of model can be worth using for low self-esteem teachers.

Further suggestions. Extra tips

When observing a lesson, you may want to focus only on positive, successful or new strategies that you want to implement in your class. The use of videos can also be of great help to help teachers get involved into the process. Watching videos about teacher training with a fellow teacher can relief the pressure of being observed for the first time. You evaluate the positive aspects of the lesson and may discuss what could be improved in a non-judgmental way.

2. Speak up! Strategies to promote communication in class

During the TESOL convention I had the opportunity to deliver a workshop about Communicative strategies and tips in class. This was a nice way to reinforce the basics with teachers while offering them some food for thoughts with activities and games they may not had tried or heard about before.
We all know that implementing speaking skills can be a little bit tricky as our students may be reluctant to speak up. They might lack self-esteem and confidence, they might be shy or they believe that they don’t have the “right” pronunciation. So, it is our job to help them develop these skills. For that purpose, we need to find topics that interest them, we need to provide the tools, the vocabulary, the grammar they need to progress and we need to think about creative ways to engage and motivate them.
The best way to engage them is to follow a clear progression in our teaching first. A progression that has to be logical for them to acquire the skills they need to use both vocabulary and grammar efficiently.
There are 5 main steps to consider when teaching speaking skills.

1. Base: Grammar and Vocabulary:

The first step, the base is when we teach grammar and vocabulary. This step is essential as it will determine the rest of our teaching so it has to be planned carefully from A to Z. For the first step, what matters is to implement simple, clear language in chunks. We will focus on pictures-words matching up for beginners and definitions or questions/answers for most advanced students.

2.The short model

The second step is the short model when we provide students with listening activities so that they can get used to the vocabulary and grammar in context along with the pronunciation. The second can be an audio or a video. It has to be short, to build on their previous learning and we need to check their understanding.

3. The short practice

This step is more student-centered. Our students will progressively learn to reuse the language they have acquired in more autonomous ways until they reach the final step, the production step. Until now the steps were rather teacher centered. Now, students should be able to immerse themselves a bit more. For that stage, they will repeat the situation but they will change a couple of details. You will monitor their work and provide short feedback. You may also ask your students to perform in front of their classmates.

4. The longer practice

Here the context will vary a little and the structures can be a little more complex. You may want to insist a bit more on gestures here to make the use of language more natural and authentic. Do not hesitate to involve your students in acting as well.

5. The production

The final stage is the production stage. Sadly, this a step that is skipped a lot in class because of time constraint. We don’t always have time to get our students to use the language independently. We tend to use the longer practice as the final step but it shouldn’t. The production stage is really the stage when you can assess your students’ skills and that is the occasion for them to be fully creative when implementing the grammar and vocabulary they have learnt. Something that can be done if you are really limited in terms of time is to give them this activity as homework. You can even convert it into a PBL activity.

6. Extra tip

Last but not least: Pronunciation. Pronunciation is important, it is true but we need to bear in mind that it shouldn’t be an obstacle to learning. I mean by that that many students are reluctant to speak because they believe they don’t have the right pronunciation. Well, what is the right pronunciation? We all have different accents, this does not mean we can’t understand eachother, does it? So just my two cents here, but I think pronunciation should be taught as part of speaking skills ability and reinforced slightly at every stage but it shouldn’t be taught as a skill in itself.

3. Grammar: Innovative strategies to motivate, Engage and Challenge everyone

Another workshop I was really glad to present was the one about Grammar. Delivering a 90-minute workshop on grammar is never enough to explore everything with 35 eager-to-learn teachers, but that is always a good way to share ideas and promote communication between teachers, especially for those who may not be confident enough with their English proficiency level.

Teaching grammar can be daunting not only for newbies but also for seasoned teachers. Students may not be particularly keen on grammar either, so teaching it can be difficult. What if we tried to implement strategies where students were actually learning grammar with fun and interactive strategies? What if students could be challenged through active and collaborative activities? That was the whole point of my workshop. Finding ways and strategies to engage students and teachers in the teaching-learning process of grammar.

1. Main approaches to present grammar

For the presentation stage, there are two main ones: The deductive and the inductive approach.
The deductive approach is a bottom-up technique. We start with the base, the rules. Students get the rules and deduce when to use the rules. They are provided with a battery of examples. The rules are immediately followed by a practice.
For the inductive grammar, the technique is reversed. Students work out the use and formation of the structure. This technique can involve students a bit more in their learning and it has as the advantage of developing their critical thinking skills. When using this technique, the teacher is a facilitator rather than the one providing students with all the answers. Here’s how we can proceed with this method. You can provide students with a text and ask them a couple of questions that will trigger their critical thinking skills. What is it about? How/Why do you think we use this structure?

2. Approaches to practise grammar

For the practice, we may consider three to four approaches: The communicative approach, collaborative learning, task-based learning or Project based learning.
A. The communicative approach will encourage students to use grammar in true, authentic contexts with a real communicational-functional purpose. Grammar is a tool for communication and as such it will be embedded in speaking activities. The focus is on the communicative task rather than the language structure.
B. The collaborative approach towards grammar learning has to do with a team-building effort. Grammar is seen as a mental (and possibly kinaesthetic) construction that can be built within a group. It is not an isolated activity. We build knowledge and understanding together.
C. Task-based learning is part of the communicative approach in the sense that learners will start with a communicative task without any guidance on the form of language. After the task, there is a general feedback where everyone gets the opportunity to discuss how they achieved the task. One of the advantages of this technique is the freedom learners have in expressing themselves, the focus being not so much on accuracy than on free expression.
D. Project-based learning shares many aspects with TBL, but it is even more ambitious. Whereas TBL makes a task the central focus of a lesson, PBL often makes a task the focus of a whole month, term or year.
There are generally considered to be four elements which are common to all project-based activities/classes/courses:

1. A central topic from which all the activities derive and which drives the project towards a final objective.
2. Access to tools of investigation design, collect, analyse and use information.
3. Opportunities for sharing ideas, collaborating and communicating.
4. A final product (often produced using new technologies available to us) whose final form is chosen by students. It can be in the form of posters, use of technology, survey, articles, presentations among others.

To conclude, I would say that teaching grammar shouldn’t be feared. We need to use the tools we have at our disposal, including technology to offer our students a greater opportunity to develop their grammatical skills. Technology has also an important part to play to make grammar more fun, interactive and more effective for our students.

4. Teaching mixed-ability classes

What? You have missed my workshop about teaching mixed-ability classes? Here’s a catch up article that will sum up the main points I discussed for the TESOL.

To teach is to engage students in learning; thus teaching consists of getting students involved in the active construction of knowledge. . .The aim of teaching is not only to transmit information, but also to transform students from passive recipients of other people’s knowledge into active constructors of their own and others’ knowledge. . .Teaching is fundamentally about creating the pedagogical, social, and ethical conditions under which students agree to take charge of their own learning, individually and collectively
Education for judgment: The artistry of discussion leadership. Edited by C. Roland Christensen, David A. Garvin, and Ann Sweet. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Business School, 1991.

With inclusion, we have now a greater mix of students in our classes. Our students are different in terms of ability, needs, learning styles and learning backgrounds. The question is How do we make sure that we give our students the tools they need to develop their skills? How do we know that our planning provides each and every one of them the right opportunities to learn and grow? Differentiate instruction is one possibility to allow more learning opportunities for our students.

Differentiation or differentiated instruction is a method that allows greater possibilities for our students. There are three main ways to differentiate in our classes:

1. Differentiated content

The idea behind differentiating content is linked to the idea of providing a different learning experience to the whole group according to individual interests and needs. It has to do with the resources the teacher brings to class. The resources have to reflect the needs and abilities of the students. In other words, the material brought to class has to be flexible and adapted.

2. Differentiated process

Process has to do with the way you deliver the course and the way students integrate the content. Students need time to understand concept, they need time to make sense of what they learn. When we teach we need to know our students well to make sure that the process is adapted. You may need to consider different objectives depending on the level and ability of your students. Bloom’s taxonomy is quite useful here. You need to think as well about the way you deliver the courses. How much Teacher-Talking-Time do you use? Are your lessons Teacher-centered? How could you focus more on your students? Have you thought about having Carousel activities in your class?

3. Differentiated product

When we say differentiating product we mean that we give students different options of format for them to give evidence of what they have learned. The way they will present evidence if their learning has to be individualized and personalized. It has to show their knowledge in a personal way because we all learn in different ways and the way we integrate knowledge an understanding is very personal.

4. More food for thought

Carol Ann Tomlinson is an American educator whose focus has been instruction for struggling and advanced learners, effective instruction in heterogeneous settings, and encouraging creative and critical thinking in the classroom. I would suggest you read some of her works available here:
1. The Differentiated Classroom: Responding to the Needs of All Learners, 2nd Edition, Tomlinson, C.A (2014)
2. Assessment and Student Success in a Differentiated Classroom
Tomlinson, C. A. & Moon, T. R. (2014)

5. Teaching and Learning with the 21st century technology

Faster, more diverse, more complex, more competitive, more technological: the world has changed and so has the teaching-learning process. The ESL world has also been affected by the changes brought by a globalized and digitized world. How can English language educators offer the tools their modern learners crave?
It makes no doubt that traditional forms of teaching such as lecturing or other teacher-centered methods are no longer adapted to the new generation of learners. But who are these learners? What are the conceptions and misconceptions about them? What are the needs of these learners?
In a motivational plenary, Doctor Karen Jogan, from Albright College in Reading PA, offered some technological tools to be used in class and outside the classroom to bridge the gap between teachers and their digital native learners. Here’s an overview of the great ideas and tools that can be used inside the classroom and outside the classroom.

1. Digital material: Pros and cons

The wide variety of technological tools we have at our disposal should be seen as a plus but in no way as a replacement to planning and teaching. Maria Brown, whose work at the Education Department, at Dubai Women’s College and her great contribution to the ELT world through TESOL Arabia, also highlighted this important feature. Technology is a tool to improve learning and to make our students grow. As a result, those tools have to be carefully chosen and they have to be embedded in the teaching-learning process in a sensitive way. The use of technology should be synonymous with personal and intellectual growth rather than waste of precious teaching-learning time. So, once we are clear about our teaching-learning objectives, then we are ready to implement digital tools in class. Not before and not the other way round. You will find a non-exhaustive lists of material I use and other teacher-trainers use in class and outside the class to create more engaging interactions and to facilitate learning.

2. Digital teaching tools in class for students

Kahoot a free game-based learning platform that makes it fun to learn – any subject, in any language, on any device. You just need to create an account, browse quizzes or even better create your own!

Popplet. In the classroom, students can use Popplet as a mind-map. Popplet helps students think and learn visually. Students can capture facts, thoughts, and images and create links between the different ideas.

Socrative. Another way to create quizzes with multiple choices, true-false or short answers activities.

Textivate. An interesting tool to work on text. If you create an account you can simply copy and paste a text you want your students to understand and/or memorize and the platform automatically creates activities based on your text (matching up, filling gaps, punctuation, games…) Good tool for literacy. The interesting version is not free though, but it is worth the try.

3. Digital teaching-training tools for presentations and webinar

Cue Prompter. If you want your students to deliver a presentation but they lack confidence in doing so, this tool can help them gain confidence. If is also a good way to avoid that they read their papers while delivering a speech.

Zoom. Probably one of the best tools for meetings, webinars and training online. The basic free version allows you to actually do quite a lot.

Swivl. If you are working as part of team, this is a great tool to buy to monitor students’ work, listen to their dialogues in class and prepare filmed presentations.

Office Mix. A good way to make your powerpoints more interactive.

4. Learning Management Systems and Open Educational Resources

In our digital world, more and more students start learning online with their laptops, tablets and/or cell phones. LMS have facilitated learning in such a way that learning material is available everywhere at anytime.

Learning has been made easier with an access to material, videos, blogs, assignments, feedback available to facilitate the life of students and teachers. Here you will find three interesting platforms:

1. Blackboard
2. Canvas
3. Moodle
With the access to Internet we can now have a greater access to learning. OER can be used for learning at a lower cost. Check these ones:

Openstax. A good way to cut down/off the price of textbooks
Coursera. Online courses from top universities like Yale and Stanford
Udemy. Online courses with a wide variety of subjects
OER commons. A digital library where you can explore publications, textbooks and resources for free while joining a network of educators

As a conclusion I would simply say that 21st century technology has brought to us learners and teachers an incredibly unlimited possibility to continue learning and keep on teaching. It is now up to us to embrace the change and implement those tools in our classes.

Pokemon go classroom ideas

Pokemon go classroom ideas

How to use pokemon go in the classroom

How to use Pokemon Go in the classroom

Pokemon Go Mania : Catch them all!
The world is getting crazy about Pokemon Go! Everyone is setting up Pokemon accounts to become Pokemon trainers. Being a teacher trainer and not a Pokemon trainer yet, here’s my perspective on the phenomenon. I have seen my students, my neighbours, my friends and strangers working all together to hunt these little virtual creatures. I have seen people getting out of their house, talking to one another, sharing tips and most importantly going to places they would never have gone to before. So, even if Pokemon Go has its detractors, let’s face it, it is a global phenomenon that could have some positive effects in our classes. Here are some easy-to-use ideas to spice up your classes by bringing up Pokemon into your class to create motivation and collaborative works among your students. All these resources here are not augmented virtual activities but easy activities made of paper or powerpoint! Because let’s face it: not all our students have access to the latest smart phones but EVERYONE should be given a chance to experiment some of the new phenomenon and to help you getting some idea here ow to use Pokemon go in the classroom.

The classroom Pokemon hunt

Print a set of Pokemon characters. Cut them out. At the back of each character, write a word related to the topic you are teaching. Fold the papers. Hide the papers in your classroom. Have the students to hunt the Pokemons! Once back to their seats they unfold the paper. They need to have their partner guess the word written at the back of the Pokemon by giving some definitions or synonyms. To make it more challenging you can also adapt this version with a taboo activity. It is fun, requires very little prep’ and it is a good warmer activity to review vocabulary.

The Treasure Pokemon hunt

Here’s a variation of the treasure hunt. It requires some preparation beforehand considering that hints/riddles are hidden on the school campus (or in the town if you are an adventurer). Prepare riddles based on your topic. Divide your class into teams. The key to these riddles should bring students to certain spots. Students need to work collaboratively to find the answers to the riddles. At each spot put a cuddly Pokemon toy and a new riddle. The team that has collected most toys wins!

The Pokemon Jeopardy quiz

Prepare a quiz for a Unit review in a jeopardy format. Divide your class in teams. Instead of money, offer Pokemon rewards. For each correct answer the team receives the Pokemon reward. It can be cuddly toys, pens, cards etc. anything related to the Pokemon mania! The quiz is organized in such a way that it is progressive. The easiest questions are at the top with the low-level Pokemons. The most difficult ones are at the bottom with high-level Pokemons.

Any more ideas? Are you a teacher and also a  trainer Pokemon go ? Let me know your though on this….

Create a quiet learning environment

Create a quiet learning environment

How to create a quiet learning environment with your students

Do you remember the old days when you used to sit in silence in a classroom waiting for your teacher’s instructions? These times are long gone. When I first started teaching I still had in mind that kind of quiet learning environment seen by our teachers as an example of good behaviour and considered by us students as a cruel punishment. Nowadays we are aware that children need to move around, need kinesthetics activities and games to learn better. However this doesn’t mean that our students don’t need some quiet time to focus and integrate what they are learning. I used to be the chatty one in class – as you can imagine – but I did appreciated the quiet study we had in class and I truly believe that this is crucial to help our students boost their results.

My first teaching experience was chaotic as I believed that games were the best way for children to get enthusiastic and to get on task. I obviously had a bunch of unruly students that made it even harder and my lessons tended to be very loud. I learned from that a balance between fun activities and quiet activities is necessary to help our students learn better and improve their performance.

The first thing is to start every lesson you have with a softer voice. Not only will it be good for your students to focus but it will also be invaluable for your health. Also the best way to ensure that you get the right balance with your peaceful moments of reflection is to embed them in you routine and in your lesson plans. For example when you start a lesson always have something ready for your students to work on. Use these 5-7 minutes for a quiet starter like a word search, a crisscross puzzle or an unscrambling the sentences activity. It will help to review prior knowledge individually and in silence. It will also give time for the late comers to settle down. After that you may want to experiment what I call the Yoga stretch.  It’s a 2-3 minute activity that will help your students relax and breathe properly. Ask them to stand up and to stretch their legs and arms. They can even yawn if it helps them oxygenate their brains. Of course the first session will bring lots of giggles. Never mind, they will get used to it after the second or third session. This short activity is aimed at helping them focus and relax. It is especially valuable during exams when students are under a lot of pressure. If some of your students take this activity as an opportunity to be disruptive, stop the activity for the whole group. It is usually an activity they like so if they can’t do it because of the attitude of some I can assure you that the disruptive students will be blamed by their peers for it and the next lesson you will be able to do it properly.

After this you can start your lesson with more lively activities. However a lively activity doesn’t necessarily mean a loud activity. Students need to be reminded that a game can be and should be played calmly. Model what you are expecting of them. For example if it is a competition game in teams tell them that if they don’t raise their hands before talking or if they shout the answers they will lose points. You need to get them used to playing games in a sensible way.

Also when you ask your students to take notes or to do an activity on a worksheet you need to create that quiet moment. For that purpose prepare your worksheet carefully. I usually have the easiest exercises at the beginning and then progressively things get tougher. It’s a good way for me to help less able students and to give more challenging task to the most able. Everybody is working at his own pace and everyone can reflect on what have learned.

The end of the lesson also requires some peaceful moments, so make sure you keep the last 7 minutes for reviewing the objectives and setting homework quietly.

Teaching mixed ability classes (Part – 2)

Teaching mixed ability classes (Part – 2)

Teaching mixed ability classes. Some Tips

One of my previous articles dealt with the advantages and problems we have with mixed ability groups. Here are some ideas you may want to implement in your classes with these groups.

First of all your own attitude towards your class will make a big difference. If your learners feel that they are part of a safe, supportive and positive environment their attitude is more likely to be positive in class. You can’t expect a group of people to be engaged in activities if you are not yourself completely convinced about the purpose of these activities.

The second important thing is to be extremely organized. You should have a lesson plan highlighting the different activities and time and you should also have all your resources ready to use.

In terms of behavior management it is important to know your students well to identify their strengths, weaknesses, know if they have any learning disabilities, know about their interests etc. This first step is crucial to ensure that your students will be involved as much as possible in the lessons. When you are clear about their needs, you can start pairing them up or grouping them according to their learning styles for example.

Teaching-mixed-ability-classes-1

To personalize learning try to have a whole range of activities and topics that will challenge kinesthetic, visual and auditory learners. Instead of using your workbook, which may even be outdated, be creative and have also your students to create their own activities. For example instead of using the survey that you have in your workbook, why don’t you ask students to create their own? Students should have their word to say in their learning and if they have some ideas to bring more interesting materials to the lessons that should be used! When we teach mixed ability classes we need to be extremely flexible and ready to adapt our planning. Of course we have a syllabus to follow but there are millions of ways to adapt it for our learners and to make it more relevant for them. If you are not sure on how to adapt the workbook have a look on the multitude of resources available online. You may want to incorporate a word search at the beginning of your lesson to warm your students up; you may want to include some PowerPoint activities, a group project, some online games, interviews etc. The possibilities are limitless and if you have a range of activities and topics you will be more likely to motivate them.

Teaching-mixed-ability-classes

Try also to personalize the learning by providing your students with targets to achieve. You should have a common goal for your whole group but it doesn’t mean that you can’t be more specific in the targets you want each of them to reach. Make sure you turn the target setting into a habit so that your students can feel responsible for their own learning. Setting and reviewing targets every day will give your students some kind of autonomy and responsibility for their learning. It may seem time consuming and it’s true that at start target setting and target reviewing can be tricky but if you teach your students how to do it and if you encourage their parents to check these targets on a regular basis that should be fruitful. Remember that we are teaching students to become independent learners so instead of spoon-feeding them give your students a sense of responsibility. Through the use of targets you should be able to monitor their progress efficiently.

Dealing with mixed groups also means dealing with different pace. A lesson shouldn’t be either too slow or too quick as it may lead to frustration or boredom. Thepace should be varied and you should be aware of the fact that some students will need more time to complete an activity. That is not a problem as long as you have some extension ready for the ones who are quick. This extension shouldn’t be however a mere repetition of the activity but rather a different activity that will challenge their minds and where they will need to gather their knowledge. By using this method then you should be able to manage time more efficiently and challenge everyone.

The collaborative aspect in teaching mixed ability groups is also an important feature that shouldn’t be underestimated. You should try to vary the groups often to avoid boredom or frustration and so that students get different opportunities of learning.

Teaching mixed ability classes (Part – 1)

Teaching mixed ability classes (Part – 1)

What we call mixed ability classes or heterogeneous classes are classes within which students have different levels of ability and proficiency. As a teacher, our aim is to unlock all of our students’ potential. However, every student has a different way of learning, and learns and progresses at different pace. Moreover, although it is quite tough for us to know about each student and to follow what each one has performed during the lessons, it is our role to monitor each and every individual and to reach their needs.

Students will differ in many ways in terms of learning ways, strengths and weaknesses. They will be different because of their age, gender, learning styles, language skills, motivation, cultural background etc. My article here aims at showing the advantages and problems that can be met with mixed ability classes. We all are confronted to mixed ability classes but if we view the positive things about it and try to implement strategies and techniques to teach our mixed groups then it can become a considerably better experience.

Teaching-mixed-ability-classes-2

Dealing with mixed ability classes is not always easy. Some students will have finished an activity while others will just have started it, most able students will tend to dominate while weaker students will sit at the back and get distracted, and able ones will get bored quickly if their mind is not challenged enough. And as for material, textbooks are mostly designed for ideal homogeneous groups, which does not reflect the reality of teaching. These are just some of the few examples of problems teachers can come across when teaching mixed ability classes.

Here are the questions we should ask when teaching mixed ability classes:

  1. How can we find ways to control a class with mixed ability students to avoid chaos?
  2. How do we find content and activities that will suit our learners in terms of motivation?
  3. How can we personalize learning and manage time in a class where there are many different learners?
  4. How can we monitor effectively our learners’ progress?
  5. How can we make sure that our students get equal learning opportunities?

However there are all also great benefits when teaching mixed ability groups. The first advantage I would say is that we have a rich group consisting of varied experiences, opinions and interests and that makes our teaching practice even more interesting. Mixed ability groups generate more collaborative, creative and innovative projects. It also helps us as teachers to change our habits and grow professionally by experimenting new teaching strategies. With mixed groups our learners’ autonomy is also enhanced and students develop more social skills.

So even if your classes do not seem the ideal perfect classes with a high level of proficiency, keep in mind that you have individuals in front of you who are capable of bringing a lot to your teaching practice and who are expecting you to find the ways to unlock their potential.

How to use rewards and consequences

How to use rewards and consequences

Usually behavior patterns can be learned and if you are consistent when using the following techniques, the general atmosphere in your classroom should change for the best. If you face persistent misbehavior however, you should move to the next level. This doesn´t mean however that you can allow yourself to lose your temper. You still need to keep calm and explain the situation to your student. Explain to the student the consequences of their continued misbehavior.  Try to always offer them a choice and explain their misbehavior in terms of choice.  If you choose to continue to … then you are choosing to be taken to ….. (Consequence)

If the student refuses the choices you have provided, then you need to move to delivering the consequence.  Always remember that a consequence must be fair, reasonable and related to the actions and attitudes of the student. Once the consequence has been delivered, you need to allow the student to make amends – therefore you may need to smile or praise later work.

14 classroom management rewards

It goes without saying that any school has a behavior policy where it integrates guidelines for teachers about rewards and consequences. This behavior policy is a very important document to ensure consistency among the whole school. It should aim at giving clear and detailed information about the types of sanctions and the different progressive procedures to follow. You need to adapt the consequence to the importance of the misconduct. You can start from removing the child from his normal sit and then give him a detention or for more serious behavior issues you may need to send him to referral to the Head of your department or to a senior member of staff. Rewards and sanctions-also called consequences in a more positive language- are key features in a school but also within your classroom as they will allow you to reinforce good behavior at all times. However there have been many debates about behavior policies and these questions are more than relevant ones when you deal with behavioral issues.

This behavior policy is a very important document to ensure consistency among the whole school.

One of them is about praising work that is at the appropriate level. The tendency shows that by praising too often work that is not beyond expectations we don’t develop the abilities of our students as much as we should. Another criticism is linked to the use of rewards. In some schools students are given points to celebrate their achievement without considering the type of achievement and these rewards are clearly seen as bribes both by children, teachers and parents. Instead of developing a sense of responsibility for their learning, students link work to reward and don´t work for knowledge in itself but for the discounts they will get in shops through the reward point system. Likewise the merit systems found in some secondary school can be interesting and relevant for younger students but once they reach the critical 15-16 age, this merit system is no longer relevant to praise their work. The last but not least of the critics is about the direction of praise and rewards. Because we want our learners to improve and because we want to modify the attitude of some them we are inclined to discrimination. Indeed we will have the tendency to direct our rewards to previously misbehaving students while we are forgetting about the rest of the group.