TEFL raises some curious problems. For example, I’ve had issues with students not turning up for lessons, students who cancel at the last minute, and lessons that go wildly off-topic. One problem in particular, though, is differing abilities within the class. I don’t mean that some students are scholars, and some can’t even tie their own shoelaces, but when you teach a number of students in one class it becomes evident that some are capable of pushing ahead, and others require a slower pace, and for things to be explained more thoroughly.
Each one teach one
How do you cope with this? I’ll tell you how I cope with it. I take a step back. If you have students who catch on quickly to new language, and who have a clear comprehension of grammatical systems, let them explain the material. This doesn’t mean you pass the mortarboard over to your to students while you have a nap. It does mean that when a student has a question, instead of answering it, you open the question up to the class and see who can explain it clearly. I have found that this system works very well – especially if you link this in with the concept of only allowing English to be used in the classroom. This gives the top students a chance to clarify the knowledge they have by explaining it (one of the best ways of consolidating new language), and it gives the other students a chance to hear the concept explained once more.
Another idea for encouraging the more capable students is to assign different levels of homework. This doesn’t require too much in terms of planning, and it can greatly affect the enjoyment that students get from classes. For example, a common homework task in my classes is a short reading assignment. The higher-level students get more complicated passages – demanding clearer pronunciation and intonation – and are asked to research the meaning of their assignments.
Mixing it up
Naturally, you want to avoid creating any cliques, or discriminating anyone, so you should be careful about how you treat your students. Furthermore, I find students excel at certain times and slow down at other times, so try to go with the flow when it comes to the matter of differing levels of ability in the classroom. Above all, your target is to teach effectively – this means a lesson is only useful if your students learn something, Clear comprehension should be the goal at all times.
How do you cope with this issue? Do you have any teaching tips? Leave a comment here and share it with the world… or at least the small portion of the world that is reading this blog. Happy teaching!