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Managing Mainstream (slow) Learners and High Performers in Autonomous Colleges
July 28, 2008

Instructional Situation: Students with Alternate Objectives

Presence of multiple level groups in an English language learning class is normal, especially in a place like India where English as a second language is a compulsory subject in schools and colleges. Secondary and higher secondary education is offered mainly in two mediums of instruction, English and the regional language. Most of the rural students prefer doing the programme in the regional language way of learning since the scoring will be comparatively easier and higher. But then, when these students move to higher education, be it an Arts and Science College, Technological College or a Medical College, the medium of instruction suddenly shifts to English.

English is also a compulsory second language in these institutions. The instructor of English enters the classroom atmosphere only in this background. One group that is longing for a pass in the paper and the other with the opinion of getting through in the examination with an ease of English medium background form the total group of young learners in a classroom. The first section depends largely on the printed guides that are readily available in the market; the second is confident of performing well with the command of the language that they have already acquired.

The instructor enters the class in the state of an insect caught in a spider's web; and he or she has to present the subject matter appealingly to both the sections. To add fuel to the problem, the syllabus and the contents are decided by someone else who has had a minimum exposure to the practical situations. Institutions are happy with the percentage of passes; teachers are happy with the completion of portions; students are happy with the clearing of papers. The hue and cry is heard aloud as a roar and reflects even in the media that the present generation of students does not have communicative skills. Centres of Communicative Skills come to the scene and commercialization begins with roaring returns.

This has been the vicious circle where students, teachers, institutions and commercial centres have been going round and round without meeting one another. The greatest irony of the situation is that even educationists who lament about the absence of speaking skills among the students do not have the communicative trait to say it clearly. If this job of imparting skills is really in the folders of ELT, then these measures could be thought of as training methodologies. Universities can reframe their academic bodies to design the textbooks in the pattern suggested. Autonomous colleges can liberally use their freedom in changing the structure.

Activities

Activity One: LEARNING GROUP

Success of teaching methods depends largely on the interactive aspects of classroom activities. Lecturing is a powerful medium of instruction; but this teaching tool presupposes certain basic factors. There should be a like minded group sitting opposite to the person who addresses the audience. In addition to the interest that they possess, their eagerness to question and to clarify at the end of a lecture keeps them always alive in the interaction. To deal with a class of multiple intelligences and to make the teaching process effective, the strength of the class could be kept up at a maximum of 30.

Activity Two: COMPULSORY DIAGNOSTIC TEST IN THE FIRST WEEK

The activity needs a workshop within the department for an hour or two. The test is to be framed to assess the ability of the fresher to learn a language. The duration preferably could be for 45 minutes. The score for the high performer is fixed before the test is conducted.

Activity Three: STREAMING THE LEARNERS BASED ON SCORING

As agreed upon in Activity One, classes are divided based on the score. It is ideal that the gradation of score is kept up in descending order for the alignment of classes.

Activity Four: SELECTION OF TEACHERS WITH LANGUAGE INTEREST

This activity needs a questionnaire to assess the ability of the teacher to train the students in English as a language. They are to demonstrate their abilities in a small classroom before getting selected for appointments. The ideal proceeding will be for the department to run a journal for circulation in the campus informing students and other colleagues the new tools that are being used in the teaching of English.

Activity Five: IDENTIFYING NEEDS

Activity five needs another workshop to identify the needs and expectations of the students and to match them with the goals and objectives of the department. The department can come together under a chairmanship and discuss in detail to pin point the specific aims. Also periodical revision and updating are needed every year.

Activity Six: PREPARATION OF TEXTBOOKS

Activity six is the continuation of Activity five. The tough part of the game is here. This is the place where the department is to function with team spirit. One or two advisers from outside selected for this purpose will add objectivity. The most ideal condition to teach effectively would be to have a single textbook with necessary units (3 or 4) incorporating content and skills. If copyright causes serious problems, the manual could be in Xerox form rather than being the printed version.

Activity Seven: DRAWING UP THE METHODOLOGY OF TEACHING FOR SLOW LEARNERS & HIGH PERFORMERS

Activity seven needs another workshop to devise the techniques of teaching. The teachers should remember that this is the place where the methodologies count a lot. Content is the same for both the groups, but the methods of teaching vary.

Sample for fast learners:
Stage 1 Asking a student to read a short passage in prose
Asking short questions orally on the meanings of words
Explaining difficult parts
Stage 2 Teacher reading the second short passage
Explaining difficult parts
Asking questions.
(similar methods)

Sample for mainstream learners:
Dictating a few simple questions that help understand the lesson
Students are asked to write answers using the textbook
Discussion
The teacher starts doing the part after this.
.. similar methods

At the end of the workshop, instructors could be allowed to make a choice whether to teach the slow or the fast learners.


Activity Eight: DESIGNING EVALUATION FORMAT; 50 + 50 END EXAMINATION SAME; INTERNAL COMPONENTS VARY

Activity eight presupposes a workshop for efficient implementation. The pattern of end semester question paper is the same for both the groups. Continuous Internal Assessment is an important section where the attention of the students could be tapped and put to efficient use. The components assigned to the fast learners can involve items like mini projects, seminars, teaching responsibilities, and even public lectures.

Activity Nine: CO-CURRICULAR ACTIVITIES FOR HIGH PERFORMERS

Activity nine is an area where the fast learners get food for their thoughts. They can be encouraged to organize seminars, guest lectures, and workshops and allowed to prepare study material for elementary and high school students in the form of power point presentations.

Activity Ten: FEEDBACK PROCEDURE (WITH IDENTITY)

Single page questionnaires are to be prepared, after a discussion and as a joint departmental assignment, for knowing the learners' voice in
a) the concept of streaming
b) the validity of diagnostic test
c) the appraisal of teachers
d) the changing needs and expectations
e) the quality of textbooks -- additions and deletions
f) the improvements in the teaching pedagogy
g) the improvements in the evaluation procedure
h) the enhancement of programmes in cocurricular activities

Important: - There should definitely be a mechanism to call the student offering derogatory feedback and to discuss matters with him to check the genuineness.

To Sum Up...

The real use of these procedures, in different phases of teaching, will demand more involvement and sparing of time on the part of instructors. Constant updating of the storing of techniques among the instructors will form the basis for meaningful survival of teachers. The management and administration wholeheartedly should come forward to honour the hard work of these teachers financially and with accolades.
photograph
V. Prakash

About the Author

Prof. Dr. V. Prakash is the Head of the Department of English at Sacred Heart College (Autonomous) in Tamilnadu, India.