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Maria Xanthou and Pavlos Pavlou Maria Xanthou hold a BA in Education from Athens University, and an MA in Education (Educational Management) from Bath University. She also obtained Adv Cert TESOL & Applied Linguistics from Leicester University and an MA in Applied Linguistics from University of Cyprus. Currently she is a PhD candidate. She has been an EFL teacher since 1991. Since 2002 she has been the co-ordinator of EFL teaching in Primary schools of Cyprus. E-mail: email@example.com
Pavlos Pavlou holds a BA in Linguistics, M.A. in Applied Linguistics and Ph.D. in
Applied Linguistics. In 1991-1992 he was a research Assistant at the Center for Applied Linguistics (USA) in the Foreign Language Testing Division, then in 1992-1993) he was an instructor of Introductory Linguistics at Georgetown University and in 1994-1996 a senior Lecturer and coordinator of the foreign languages programme at Intercollege, Cyprus. Since 1997 he has been an assistant Professor at Department of English Studies, University of Cyprus. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Menu Abstract Introduction Active learning Homogeneous grouping Heterogeneous grouping - Cooperative learning Open-ended tasks – Communicative based learning Language games and stories Differentiating students’ work in mixed ability EFL classes The study Method Participanats Hypothessis Apparatus Results Implications – Discussion Limitations - Directions in future research Conclusions References Appendix Abstract In many EFL settings English instruction is provided both by the public and the private sector, and in some cases, such as Cyprus, many children start learning English in private schools before they attend English classes in state schools. This practice is an additional factor in the creation of mixed ability classes in state schools.
The current study focuses on how teachers deal with mixed ability classes, especially with regard to students who come to the class with certain pre-knowledge of English because of private language lessons. The findings show that the use of mixed and same ability groups in the class as well as cooperative and communicative activities, together with word games and task differentiation may accommodate sufficiently the mixed ability class situation . Introduction Every learner has his own learning style, linguistic background knowledge or individual pace of learning and developing. Hence, the majority of foreign language classes involve students of varying abilities (Richards, 1998). In EFL settings of state funded schools, beginners’ classes in English are geared towards students with no prior knowledge of English, i.e. learners who are true beginners having almost no structural and lexical knowledge of the foreign language (L2), they may not recognise the Roman alphabet or differentiate among different languages. However, a great number of students among these presumably beginners can be classified as false beginners or even as learners with substantial knowledge of English. This is the case as they have already been exposed to English for various reasons; first of all, they may have followed English language courses at a private language school, or they may have English speaking relatives, neighbours or friends, or they may they learned a few things in English through listening to English on radio or television (see Davy and Pavlou, 2001). This situation is likely to create a dilemma for the teacher to cope with, either to focus on the more advanced students ignoring the rest or address the less able learners at the risk of boring the more able ones as it seems difficult to deal effectively with this situation. This paper sets out to explore potential teaching methods aiming to reach an appropriate solution to the mixed ability class problem. This study describes mixed ability classes in terms of students’ pre existing linguistic knowledge mainly coming from private tuition and discusses proper instructional processes of coping with this knowledge and ability heterogeneity such as forming mixed or same ability groups in the class and using cooperative and communicative learning as well as language games and task differentiation. Previous research (Xanthou and Pavlou, in press) showed that the results of grammar and vocabulary tests among beginners in Cyprus indicate great variability in competency in the EFL public primary school classes. The one-way ANOVA revealed a significant effect (p= .00) of private EFL classes on grammar and vocabulary scores. A close examination of a textbook frequently adopted by several private language schools (stage: A) revealed that it involved all word categories that are included in the book ‘English for Communication’ (level: 1), which is the textbook produced by the state to be used in the state funded primary sector. This inevitably led to higher scores among children with one year private tuition on the vocabulary test. The present study aimed to elicit information about how teachers deal with class heterogeneity and suggest ways they could employ to cope with MAC. Active learning: a prerequisite for language development in the mixed ability class
Proponents of HG opine that it is an excellent means of individualizing instruction. More recently. Therefore. language games and stories and task differentiation (Hess. It has been declared that this type of grouping stigmatizes lower ability students. communicative tasks (Ellis. EFL teachers need to use instructional styles which promote active learning in order to cope with the MAC situation effectively. Marsh (1987) supports HG as a way of coping with mixed ability classes assuming that grouping children homogeneously enables those in lower ability groups to profit with respect to self-evaluation by being isolated from advanced peers. Students without prior knowledge of English (PKE) are discouraged from getting involved in the lesson. Both low ability students and more advanced ones placed in separate groups. 1987). Furthermore. Mulkey et al (2005) found that same ability grouping has persistent instructional benefits for both high and low level students. 1985) otherwise the use of direct teaching styles may exacerbate the problems in MAC (Koole. 1993. offering them inferior instruction. Matthews (1997) conducted a relevant research with students in grades 6 through 8 finding that gifted students are considerably more diverse than they are homogeneous. the last quarter of the 20 th century witnessed severe criticism of ability grouping. 1987. Allan (1991) supports that pupils model their behaviour after the behaviour of similar ability children who are coping well with their school work.1987). 1999). advanced pupils are taught more difficult concepts while low achievers deal with simple and fewer things. . So. 1998). 2003). their abilities. 2000). benefited from instruction addressed to their level. This kind of grouping is based on the pedagogical principle that the teacher has the advantage of focusing instruction at the level of all the students in the particular group (Ansalone. 2004). suggesting that students of different background and abilities can be gathered in groups of same ability thereby facilitating instruction (Slavin. Homogeneous grouping Homogeneous grouping (HG) has been proposed and implemented as a potential solution to meet the needs of the mixed ability classes. 2005). Johnson and Johnson. maximizing academic performance of all students (Epstein. In what follows some proper instructional styles for the MAC will be discussed such as: homogeneous and heterogeneous grouping (Slavin. Mets and Van den Hauwe.1997). 2003. finding benefits of within-class ability grouping.The quality of teaching is considered to be critical to success for students being exposed to poor out-of school environments (Shankweiler and Fowler. 2001. Kulik and Kulik (1982) and Slavin (1987) carried out meta-analyses of studies at the elementary school level. Although teachers of MAC seem to have positive attitudes towards homogeneous grouping (Scherer. They vary in their degrees of advancement. Several researchers argue that HG does not guarantee that all advanced or all weak students are alike. The supporters of homogeneous grouping conclude that research fails to support that homogeneous grouping doesn’t accomplish anything (Loveless. Achievement is considered to increase as teachers adjust the pace of instruction to students’ needs. Mulkey et al. It is assumed that teachers of MAC can increase the pace and raise instruction level for high achievers whereas low level students can enjoy individual attention. Spada.
medium. Oakes (1992) and Wheelock (2005) support that educational benefits in mixed ability settings are not provided by homogeneous grouping but rather by a challenging curriculum and high expectations. Gamoran. This implies that students of low ability in mixed ability classes are provided with low expectations if placed in same ability groups causing them feelings of inferiority. are exposed to less and more simplified versions of the curriculum whereas high ability groups have broader and more challenging material covered. Masci and Defiore (2002) believe that ‘all students deserve an academically challenging curriculum’ (p. creating academic elites. Brimfield. or those who are learning less fast. Teachers’ expectations for all pupils are maintained at higher levels and less able students have opportunities to be assisted by more able peers. 1987).15). HG seems to enhance social reproduction in society. It is inferred that grouping students homogeneously for instruction on the MAC is one more advantage conferred on those who already enjoy many. reduced resources and rote learning. It is assumed that heterogeneous grouping provides pupils access to more learning opportunities. Ability grouping may decrease the self-esteem and aspirations of low ability children and therefore decelarate their academic progress. Welner and Mickelson (2000) carried out quite an extensive research review finding that low ability children are exposed to lowered expectations. gathering advanced children of the MAC together in one group may not be the wisest solution to the problem. their test-taking skills. Heterogeneous grouping . In this sense. it is likely that forming mixed-ability pairs or groups may offer more benefits to all learners in the classroom. The authors point out that by creating mixed-ability groups. This is confirmed by Ansalone (2001) and Hallinan (1994) who demonstrated that children assigned to lower ability groups. Research has accumulated evidence indicating that schooling tends to increase individual differences (Van der Veer and Valsiner. and their social/emotional development. that is gathering children of varying abilities in same groups has been proposed by many researchers as an effective strategy to promote academic development of students having diverse background knowledge and abilities. So. and low abilities in the same group maximizing the heterogeneous make up . our goal is to find a way to engage all pupils of the mixed ability classroom in the lesson irrespective of their abilities. Children’s self-concept is affected and expectations are internalized (Ireson and Hallam. So. Homogeneous grouping (HG) seems to add more opportunities to advanced learners who are usually middleclass or upper-middle-class children. 1991). Since the drawbacks of HG outweigh the benefits. 1993).their learning styles and interests. we send the compelling message that everybody is expected to work at the highest possible level as high and low ability students deal with the same challenges. 1999. depriving pupils who already suffer from socioeconomic segregation. 1987). Johnson and Johnson (1987) recommend assigning children of high. and this turns against democratic ideals (Slavin. Disadvantaged pupils are at reduced risk of being stigmatized and exposed to a ‘dumped-down’ curriculum in a mixed-ability setting. Kozo seems to agree that homogeneous grouping damages not only low but also high-ability students as the latter who are usually the affluent children are not given any opportunities to learn the virtues of helping others or learning about unselfishness (Scherer.Cooperative learning Heterogeneous grouping (HeG).
Such ability diversity within the same group creates an effective learning environment (Manlove and Baker. they guide each other’s efforts. Rogoff (1993) refers to children’s social sharing of their cognition through interaction. 1995) providing learning opportunities for low-level students as well as opportunities to more advanced children to provide explanations to others revising. Ladd and Price (1985) Webb (1989). Porter (1986).The teachers can use cooperative tasks among high and low achievers of mixed ability groups or pairs in order to promote task engagement of all students in the mixed ability class as advanced children can provide explanations and guidance in carrying out a task. Walters (2000) asserts that cooperative learning is suitable for teachers dealing with increasingly diverse classrooms as it easily accommodates individual differences in achievement. Cooperative tasks among high and low achievers are valued by the sociocultural theory of Vygotsky (1978).e . it appears that CL may satisfy the needs of a mixed ability class. When pupils participate in collective activities.e. is consistent with Urzua’s (1987) finding that the mixed ability Cotterall (1990) ability pair and This conclusion children in the . are expected to have already run through a large part of their ZPD. they may benefit greatly from peer interactions which are likely to help low level students reach higher levels of performance. and indicate that learners of different abilities produce more in mixed group work by helping one another to overcome cognitive obstacles. without PKE may possess a larger ZPD (Van der Veer and Valsiner. Lyle (1999) showed that both low and high achieving students value the opportunity to work together as all pupils believed that they benefited. In this vein. Jacob et al (1996) and Slavin (1996). pupils with poor literacy opportunities i. For example. They add that serving in the role of tutor seems to be particularly beneficial for improving the self-esteem of students with low achievement while they may. grade their partner’s reading. Guralnick (1992) points out that social competence acquired in group work affects the elaboration of all students’ cognitive competencies. In this framework. Accordingly. for example. According to Tudge and Winterhoff (1993) advanced children give constant feedback through conversation forcing peers to strive for reaching higher levels of performance. It was concluded that peer interactions can facilitate literacy development especially of low ability students. Pupils of mixed ability classes (MAC) differ at their competence level and prior linguistic experiences. The role of peer learning as contributing to language development has also been emphasized by Mize. consolidating and using some things they have encountered before.of each group. Vygotsky supports that children who are exposed to books and other out-of-school factors which contribute to linguistic development i.prior knowledge of English (PKE) from private institutional instruction. Studies conducted by Pica and Doughty (1985). On the other hand. Various studies have indicated a positive correlation between cooperative learning (CL) and achievement in MAC. So. implying that both low and advanced learners of mixed ability classes may gain from such settings. Therefore. 1991). Fulk and King (2001) support that ‘classwide peer tutoring’ improves all students’ learning.
Peer review groups are also favoured by Huot (2002) and Inoue (2005) and Cotterall and Cohen (2003) who showed the positive effects of scaffolding in mixed ability settings To conclude. open-ended tasks such as predictions on the content or the language which will possibly occur in a text seem to provide more space for all learners to move as there need not be one answer. allowing each member to do something according to one’s abilities. This is due to its advantage to allow learners at all levels to work on the same task but at their own pace. e.e. On the contrary.g. it may achieve the maximum involvement of all kinds of learners within the MAC (Prodromou. ‘What do you have for breakfast?’. Children with PKE usually get the answer right. closed exercises such as Yes/No questions may exclude the weak learner from participating in the activity as there is one correct or wrong answer. students of lower ability can still say little things. Hence. In the case where children without PKE provide a word in the mother tongue. 1995) as they provide choice to all students of the MAC. the teacher needs to be encouraging. While pupils with PKE are allowed room to act. Rollinson (2005:25) attributes this phenomenon to the possibility that ‘peer audiences are more sympathetic than the more distant teacher audience’. educators need to provide exercises which permit the learner to construct on their poor knowledge and have the advantage to be at least partly right. On the other hand. feeling satisfied. then silence is preferred by the weak learner. then anything can be elicited. commenting on and critiquing each other’s drafts in both oral and written formats (Liu and Hansen. When the fear of failure is maximized. if the teacher turns a question into a personal one. The benefits of cooperative learning (CL) are more tangible when it comes to written work. medium and advanced level students to draw on their language knowledge as well as their world knowledge. Prediction from titles and pictures stimulates low. the mixed ability class is perceived as a unified whole rather than a mixture of different parts. Open-ended tasks are associated with communicative methodology (Prodromou. appeared to have developed a sense of power in language through the process of working with trusted peers i. High. feeling disappointed. distinguishing low and advanced level learners. Unlike traditional comprehension exercises which might cause anxiety to the weak student. Hence. pupils with poor linguistic background often get the answer wrong. In this way. A wider range of answers is elicited if the children are further prompted ‘What else …?’. 1995). medium and low level . 2002). from monosyllabic answers to whole paragraphs allowing an effective tool in the hands of the mixed ability EFL teacher.observational study conducted. O’Donnell et al (1985) found that involvement in cooperative dyads can improve the quality of students’ performance on a written task. cooperative activities such as group investigation are likely to encourage shy and low performance students since they have the advantage of requiring the participation of all group or pair members to carry out a task. Finally. supplying the right word in English. the low level learner is provided with attainable tasks while the more advanced one tests his own syntactic knowledge. Weak students of MAC can use advanced learners as sources of information. writing and revising. Open-ended tasks – Communicative based learning Although open-endedness allows minimal preparation by the teacher.
They suggest that if teaching avoids placing target language in conversational contexts. 1995). practice and strengthen their syntactic knowledge using the target language meaningfully satisfying their need for communication. Language games e. While playing. Language games are enjoyable but purposeful activities that are governed by linguistic rules. attention is focused on the message instead of the correctness of linguistic forms therefore the fear of negative evaluation which according to Horwitz et al (1986) makes language learners avoid using the target language in public. are goal-oriented and they execution leads to further learning.learners can process and use the target structures in meaningful situations making them part of their interlanguage system.g. Pica (1987) and Fotos and Ellis (1991) consider communicative interaction as fundamental to language acquisition. Language games and stories Although students in MAC exhibit differences in prior knowledge and ability they seem to share a great similarity: they all value pleasure (Prodromou. so this interaction may need to be sought in the MAC. card games may solve problems related to mixed ability classes as they allow flexibility which is crucial in a class with many proficiency levels. is eliminated. The teacher can give cards with easier items assigning easiest tasks to true beginners while more difficult things can be given to more advanced children. Hughes and McCarthy (1998) stress that the learner ‘needs long stretches of written and spoken text to make full sense of the grammar’ (p. practicing the learned linguistic knowledge in a meaningful and vivid context. 1998) so students with poor linguistic background have the opportunity to report whatever they know or the teacher has taught them in a non-stressful way. if target language is presented in meaningful context. it has more possibilities to be learned by students without PKE and be retained by children with PKE who already have met this target vocabulary and structures. while Collentine and Freed (2004) mention that communicative contexts force learners of all proficiency levels in the class to ‘use the L2 as a tool for participating in interpersonal functions’ (p. Competitions provide children opportunities to communicate using the target language. So. A relaxing learning atmosphere is created when games are used in the classroom (Uberman. Meaning raises the need for communication to the learners and simultaneously their level of motivation. promoting fluency. Students of all levels are likely to learn a foreign language when dealing with meaningful activities. Games can be a powerful language learning tool.155). Games and quizzes are some ways that could satisfy learners’ need to find pleasure in EFL learning. Providing the mixed ability class with communicative activities which force all students to communicate with either the teacher or their classmates in order to give and receive missing information can be helpful for learners at all linguistic levels. Halliday (1978). . True beginners can give short answers and false beginners with prior knowledge of English are given the opportunity to test.275). this may mislead learners especially the advanced ones which have been exposed to private tuition that they know something without realizing its appropriateness and context.
problems or goals than less advanced peers. When teachers assign the same exercises for all learners and then let fast finishers play games for enrichment. activities should be presented through auditory. Stories such as fairy tales. visual and kinesthetic means in order to satisfy all learning styles. Students’ products in a MAC can also be differentiated. Therefore. book reports. A certain amount of questions need to involve simple vocabulary and structures giving a chance to true beginners to get involved allowing fluent language production. (Prodromou. have a magic that is able to attract all students’ interest and their great advantage is that they do not require learners to speak before they feel ready. 1995). after completing their regular work is not appropriate. In the latter case. low level students’ anxiety is reduced while advanced level students’ interest is captured. This kind of instruction should aim to direct all students toward essential understandings using a variety of processes and products to get there. Interest centers could also be set up in the classroom to cater for all students’ interests regardless of their proficiency level. short stories and newspaper reports.Quizzes involving general knowledge might prove useful in mixed ability classes as they are based on learners’ general experience and personality rather than linguistic knowledge therefore participation is encouraged to a greater extent. by creating a puppet show. The purpose of the current study is to explore the . children without a strong linguistic background may find it easier to work with nouns rather than adverbs etc. The process of teaching can be differentiated if activities move from simple and basic to complex in order to satisfy all linguistic levels of the MAC. they can be given cards with easy and more difficult incomplete sentences from the story to complete. Asking advanced students to do extra assignments i. various other strategies could help to manage differentiation of material content. 1995). Providing children with a number of options instead of loading additional work to the more advanced students seems to be a key issue. resources. Differentiating students’ work in mixed ability EFL classes Hess (1999) points out that differentiated instruction can raise the bar for all learners of the MAC. This could be seen as punitive for them (Tomlinson. Medium and higher linguistic levels need to be considered too. Integration of skills can be allowed in order to satisfy all learning styles of the MAC. For example. For example. Tasks need to be designed with a multiple intelligence orientation. Linguistically advanced students are likely to benefit from tasks that are more complex in research. or choose words from a list to prepare statements about the story. Learners should be allowed to respond to the story at their own linguistic level e.g.e. Instead. the teacher can stop at certain points of the story and require students to write down what they think happens next and then report orally. writing a letter or creating their own product assignments containing the required target lexis and structure. For example.reading materials to suit varying readability levels to present the new structure. Various computer programs can be used by low proficiency level students to complete tasks requiring less knowledge and by more advanced learners to produce more complex activities. they are not differentiating their teaching to satisfy all linguistic levels of a MAC.g. learners can be offered many options to prove they have learned something e. the teacher can use multiple texts. Therefore.
The study Method One hundred and fourteen teachers were questioned about the current situation in mixed ability EFL classes being called to report ways of dealing with it. Hypothesis It was hypothesized that flexible grouping (mixed and same ability groups). word games and task differentiation may accommodate sufficiently the mixed ability class situation.g. A. A pilot study in the form of semi-structured interview provided the items of the questionnaire (Bell. 2003). providing .. & Atkins. A participant observation was carried out as the teacher who was teaching the lesson also took the notes. Results Results of the questionnaire are compared with in-class observation data. In-class observation data were held twice a week for six 40 minute lessons taken place in October 2005.mixed ability EFL classes issue by examining the teachers’ experiences and views on how to cope with this situation and compare findings with in-class observation data. cooperative. 1996: 45). Apparatus A questionnaire was then administered to one hundred and fourteen EFL State primary school teachers (Appendix I). Figure 1 shows that the majority of the teachers use advanced children to provide feedback (47. The particular class being observed was a level 1 (9-year olds) EFL class of an urban public primary school. Data were related to mixed and same ability grouping. 1999).75% very often and 4. 1996) was compared to the textbook used by many private EFL institutions for level 1 learners (Mead.36% very often and 11. Teachers reported some ways that prior knowledge of English is used for the benefit of the mixed ability class. B. Observational data has been employed in order to ensure triangulation of data provided by the various sources (Sanger.38% always). The textbook used in public schools is examined and compared to that used in many private EFL classes. Observation data indicate that low ability students do benefit from peer feedback e. Participants The study elicited the experiences and views of 114 urban EFL teachers on EFL mixed ability classes so as to highlight important issues in the area.40% always) and model activities (51. communicative activities/open-ended tasks. Moreover. 1975). language games/stories and task differentiation. including 25 children of mixed abilities. This type of data aims to explore the MAC issue in a more natural environment than that in which a survey is conducted (Bailey. the EFL textbook used in State Primary Schools (Tziortzis et al. Data were taken in the form of written notes (Appendix II). cooperative and communicative activities.
Their views indicate that teachers value the importance of peer tutoring. Figure 1: Teachers’ evaluation on how students with PKE are used as an asset in the class How are students with PKE used as an asset in the class 70 60 50 40 30 20 10 0 51.40% 1.36% 36. a pupil with prior knowledge deals with a group work information gap activity while others watch first and then carry on the task themselves (lesson 6-activity 4). 72. Resorting to mixed ability group work seems to be an effective practice in MAC as it is confirmed by class observation data. Providing feedback in writing is favoured even more (75. Modelling activities by advanced learners seems successful too.64% agree and 37.80% agree and 12.35% 47. e.28% totally agree in peer help in reading. Providing feedback Teachers were further asked to express their views on how prior knowledge could be used positively in the class.g.75% 40. For example. Modeling activities 2.71% totally agree) – Figure 2.78% totally agree) while group-work is strongly preferred by most teachers (59.43% agree and 15.38% 1 2 11.84% never seldom often very often always teachers 4. .information on the structural correctness of a sentence such as using plural instead of singular form or placing ‘Is’ at the beginning of the sentence when asking something.
64% 37.Figure 2: Teachers’ opinions on how PKE can be used as an asset in the class Teachers' opinions on how PKE can be used as an asset in the class 100 80 teachers 60 40 20 0 1 2 3 1.71% 15.78% 6.14% totally disagree disagree no opinion agree totally agree 12.provide explanations in groups 5.80% 75.help in reading (pairs) 2.26% 72.43% 59.28% .feedback in writing (pairs) 3.
a considerable percentage (43.85%) totally avoids same ability groups as a way to facilitate teaching in the MAC.66% 7.89% 26. both can serve well a MAC as shown by EFL class observation data. Surprisingly.31% seldom differentiate homework whereas 23. Some of them are illustrated in figure 4. Frequency of modifying teaching in order to cope with class heterogeneity 60 50 teachers 40 30 20 10 0 1 never seldom often very often always 0.Figure 3 shows that most teachers try to cope with class heterogeneity by modifying their teaching.87% 16. Cooperative activities are also used very often.24% Figure 3: Teaching modification in order to deal with class heterogeneity Teachers use ways in order to cope with mixed ability classes. Two 40 minute teaching periods a weak are not enough to provide a rich variety of language stimulants to all levels of students. However.84% of the teachers respectively.68% of them differentiate very often. although observation shows positive attitude of children towards technology. Activities for all learning styles are also used very often by 38. Self-access corners as well as English library are never used by 24. even always by 14. . However.35% of the teachers as they may lack sufficient training. While the vast majority of teachers usually form mixed ability groups.31% 48.91% of the teachers. Students without PKE worked to fill in missing words from short passages while students with PKE dealt with longer passages with more missing words. Teachers do not share the same attitude towards differentiating homework as 26. and observation has shown its positive outcomes. computers are seldom used by 40. The reason why these techniques are not very widely used is lack of time. Open-ended tasks are often used and the communicative approach is preferred for dealing with MAC. Word games/stories are the most preferred technique. as well as roleplaying and variety of reading activities.59% of the teachers.56% and 36. observation shows that children feel happier when having to do something according to their linguistic knowledge such as differentiating homework tasks. Teachers may not want to risk having low and average ability children being exposed to low expectations as this may cause low selfesteem to these children.
26% 16.role-playing 9.89% 4. Student B: ‘your mother’.24% never seldom often very often always 17.84% 38.35% 36.31% 23.54% 16.98% 39.28% 14.36% 39. In one case. Observation shows that HA students need some more complex activities and LA students some direct teaching of .22% 42.17% 48.40% 7. 10.38% 5.28% 9.33% 24.33% 42.open-ended tasks 4. cooperative activities 6.MA groups 2.communicative activities 5.26% 4. while students were practicing the interrogative they produced the following exchange in their effort to find out who the persons on the photos were: Student A: ‘She is mother?’.64% 11. 27.07%24.68% 20.56% 26.35% 40.66% 17.38% 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 1.85% of the teachers never use same ability groups.differentiating homework Figure 4: Teaching techniques for coping with MAC An attempt was made to uncover teachers’ perceptions on how to deal effectively with MAC (Figure 5).77% 6. Student A: ‘She is your mother?’ Student B: ‘Is she…’ Student A: ‘Is she your mother?’ Student B: ‘Yes.54% 14.21% would like to use them as a way of dealing with heterogeneity.59% 36.47% 35% 33.act.47% 32.85% 47.91% 12. she is’.96% 30.84% 35.60 50 40 teachers 30 20 10 0 35% Teaching techniques for coping with class heterogeneity 43.61% 42.SA groups 3.self-access 12. In this example we see how a high competent student serves as a model for a lower competent student who eventually appropriates his class mate’s correct utterance.CALL 11.word games 7.98%41.14% 12.98% 37.56% 28.70% 33.71% 40. Observation shows that it is a successful technique for MAC.library 13. Although 43. for all learning styles 8. Clearly.91% 8.reading act.45% 45. the vast majority of teachers support the use of mixed ability groups as a classroom arrangement in MAC.60% 5.
Children of low proficiency level feel pleased when having the opportunity to practice the target structure and vocabulary.same ability groups 3. cooperative and communicative activities.word games and stories 67. Several aspects of the results warrant emphasis. However. while low ability children .target structures.08% totally agree Figure 5: Teachers views on how to deal with class heterogeneity Implications – Discussion EFL teachers of public primary schools in Cyprus have to face a great challenge.47% 35. they need to help children without PKE start from the beginning and learn a great deal of things until the end of the school year. Teachers opinions on how to deal with heterogeneity 100 80 teachers 60 40 20 0 1 2 3 4 5 1.89% 59.14% totally disagree disagree no opinion agree 4. Communicative and cooperative activities as well as word games/stories are also viewed positively as considerably more teachers would like to use them to a greater extent. educators need to be armed with a specific repertoire of teaching strategies in order to deal successfully with the MAC situation. Observational data focusing on guessing games and story telling illustrates that these teaching techniques may accommodate successfully the MAC.31% 39. word games and task differentiation may prove effective weapons in the hands of the mixed ability class EFL teacher.43% 17. same ability grouping seems to create a competitive spirit to children with PKE as they are anxious about what their neighbor has produced which may hurt their self-esteem.54% 57.64% 56. teachers have to cope with the fact that a great number of students start the EFL course in the public school having already encountered all vocabulary and grammar targets in private tuition. On the one hand. Therefore.mixed ability groups 2. The findings of this study support the hypothesis that flexible grouping (mixed and same ability groups).22% 25. co-operative activities 5.03% 26.communicative activities 4. As regards teaching techniques for coping with class heterogeneity. Hence. asking for clarifications and receiving answers by the teacher.54% 14. they could form potential solutions to the MAC problem.59% 41.38% 38. On the other hand. the majority of teachers seem to realize that the direct whole-class teaching does not address the needs of individual children as there is a danger that the high proficiency learner will become bored.
It is noteworthy that same ability groups are never used by almost half of the teachers (43. This accords well with some observation data of this study. Tomlinson (1995) suggests flexible grouping so that all learners can work with a variety of peers.25%) indicating that they may fear damaging the self-concept of both low and high proficiency level students. 1996). 1983.85%) and are not viewed positively by more than half of the teachers (55. Further. So. Students may need to have the opportunity to work occasionally with like-readiness peers. sometimes with mixed-readiness groups. teachers need to construct an environment that facilitates peer collaboration as research indicates that students being involved in collaborative learning situations showed educationally important increases in performance (Graves. Technology is not yet used extensively in the foreign language classroom implying that teachers may need to be exposed to proper training whilst time seems to be insufficient for including an English library or a self access corner in the class. 1995). communicative tasks as well as word games (94. Harris and Silva. Therefore. However. language games and stories in the classroom is likely to create a stress free atmosphere. in light of this survey. 1997). Moreover. 2005). On balance. using open-ended tasks. Searching for an answer to the mixed ability class issue which is made greater by students’ prior knowledge as shown by the present study. communicative activities as well as word games to a greater extent than they already do as they seem to believe in their positive outcomes on MAC. Bryan. In general. Children of higher linguistic ability benefit from providing explanations enhancing their fluency while lower ability students are guided to reach higher levels of performance. Both mixed ability and same ability groups to a less extent are considered as possible ways of dealing with heterogeneity. Working with peers enables learners to add to their knowledge. Teachers would like to use co-operative. The first group of students may feel inferior to the other groups whereas a group of advanced pupils may feel threatened by their competitors and this can lower their self-concept (Marsh and Craven. sometimes with students who have similar interests or even randomly. working in the Zone of Proximal Development. it seems fair to suggest students need to be provided with opportunities to communicate in order to exchange information for accomplishing a task motivating all students to speak according to their level. middle level children may miss out as they neither seek not give help (Askew and William. offer a variety of options and stimulate all types of learners. . An ideal teaching-learning context in mixed ability EFL classes is when students assist each other in activities. literature and teachers’ views on this issue highlight the need to form occasionally mixed ability groups in the class to allow modelling language. A number of teachers assume that homogeneous grouping might prove useful at certain times when some clarifications or extra exercises need to be given to a specific group of children (Mulkey et al. 1999). 1993. The vast majority of teachers (94. Lomangino et al.feel frustrated and experience a sense of failure (Edwards and Woodhead.74%) resort to mixed ability groups in order to give students opportunities to interact.73%) and homework differentiation (64.02%) are also used to facilitate involvement of all students’ levels. mixed ability groups may provide opportunities mostly to high and low achieving pupils as they do more by explaining and asking respectively. 1996.
For example. educators need to assign pair and group work with students of different ability levels finding ways to involve all students in the lesson. An increase in the teaching time of EFL would clearly allow the teacher use timeconsuming collaborative and communicative approaches that bring positive outcomes. others struggle with target language. while another great part of the class falls somewhere in between. Language games and task differentiation could help high ability students use the target structures to a greater extent. In their effort to meet the needs of such a diverse student population. Grouping and the gifted ability-grouping research reviews: What do they say about grouping and the gifted? Educational Leadership 48(6). the issue of L2 learning in mixed ability classes is a fertile ground for further research. Limitations . it would seem reasonable to suggest that classroom harmony might better be achieved in a group of motivated students who are allowed to participate and cooperate. more rigorous research is required on the effect of same and mixed ability grouping. References Allan. S. Undoubtedly. 60-65. . in press). language rich environment attracting active participation of all linguistic levels in the mixed ability EFL class. 2002) in a learning environment which stimulates meaningful communication and provides opportunities for language games and differentiation of activities providing benefits to all kinds of learners. In this classroom environment advanced level students act as a bridge to facilitate the learning process and lower level classmates exhibit a willingness to cross that bridge (Sean. The findings of this survey can be useful for future planning. particularly in the field of teacher training either pre-service or in-service as well as curriculum design as it seems that an increase in EFL teaching hours is likely to have beneficial outcomes for all learners of the MAC by providing more exposure to the foreign language.Directions in future research This study is limited by the small samples used in the surveys. Conclusion In most EFL primary school classrooms. Further research with larger samples is needed to reveal appropriate solutions to the mixed abilities EFL classes phenomenon. Hence. The EFL course in public schools may need to start from an earlier age in order to start providing exposure to L2 students at the same age (Xanthou and Pavlou. Teachers need to promote a lively. (1991).EFL teaching methodology may need to engage students in communicative tasks which provide meaningful situations where pupils can use the target structures thereby enhancing their deep processing. some learners perform greater beyond gradelevel expectations. communicative and collaborative learning on the performance of all students in the mixed ability EFL class. More time may also give more opportunities to the children to use the self-access corners and English libraries which provide for task differentiation meeting the needs of a MAC. more qualitative data such as case studies in this context are desirable. Such ways could include communicative and cooperative tasks to allow scaffolding of less advanced children. As a general rule.
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stories g) Activities for all learning styles: visual.c) They could be placed in mixed ability groups in order to provide explanations d) Other………………………… 3. kinesthetic h) Role playing i) Reading drills with various levels of difficulty g) CALL activities k) Self –access centres . Do you modify your teaching in order to cope with the heterogeneity of your class? never seldom often very often always 4. How do you modify your teaching in order to cope with the heterogeneity of your class? never seldom often very often always a) Mixed ability groups b) Same ability groups c) Open-ended tasks e. finishing a story d) Communicative activities – children talk to each other e) Co-operative activities f) Word games and guessing games children try to discover something . auditory. predicting describing a picture.g.
. The Expert Teacher course can be viewed here. . What other possible ways could you think of dealing with heterogeneity? a) Mixed ability group work b) Same ability groups c) Communicative activities d) Co-operative activities e) Word games and stories f) Other………………………… Totally disagree disagree no opinion agree totally agree The Expert Teacher course can be viewed here. The Building Positive Group Dynamics course can be viewed here.l) Reporting on english books (library activities) m) Differentiating homework optional activities n) Other……………………. 5.
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