TEFL Trainer, Reflective diary written by Francesco T.
- What are the main constraints in the classroom facing TEFL teachers (large multilevel classes, textbooks, curriculum, hours, motivation, special needs)?
The challenges of multi-level classes
In my experience in teaching English in Valencia, I found out straight away that I was going to deal with a multi-level class, which is something I have always experienced as a student. The class I oversaw ranged from B2 to C1 (with some occasional students aiming at the C2 level) and it occasionally presented some challenges.
One of the difficulties was the need to maintain a good level of motivation. A lot of times we find ourselves interacting with a learning group where there might be people who have a better grasp of the subject than the one we have. That could create potential conflict in ourselves, undermining the learning outcome by making us fear the comparison, the mistakes we could make and the impression that the other students might have of us.
As a teacher, one of the things I must convince my students of their complete freedom and right to make mistakes in the class and the fact that I, as well, am always learning and can make mistakes.
I figured that my age was potentially part of the reason why I was able to make them feel more comfortable in the class, especially because some of the students were just a little older than I was, but I also think that the idea of establishing myself as a facilitator rather than a formal teacher, helped relaxing the environment within we were interacting, where my students felt the need to use as much language as they felt comfortable with, as well as trying newly learned structure, in order to receive feedback.
The fact that everybody was aiming at the same objective also improved the overall perception of the classes. The students where all studying and working on the same topic with the same material.
I personally believe that to create a unified leaning environment where the different levels can interact and aid each other can also be helped by the fact that the students are working with the same material and on the same task.
Which bring me to the other problem that a TEFL teacher might encounter: how do we make sure all the students are making equal progress in a multi-level class?
Based on my pedagogic knowledge, I did take much inspiration in the concept of pairing two students of different levels so they could work on the same task. Throughout my experience as a student I have seen the positive outcomes of this practice which brings the students to learn and consolidate knowledge while working critically together. The lower level student would ‘use’ the high-level student to learn new things, to go over topics they do not have fully comprehended or that they do not feel particularly comfortable with as much as they need. On the other hand, the high-level student, while responding to the needs of the lower hand student, is forced to critically analyse their knowledge before and while sharing it, in order to complete the task properly.
The only downside of pair-working, according to my experience, was that some of the less skilled learners tend to fall back on their native language if they still find it difficult to speak. However, that could be easily solved if they are paired with students that are enthusiastic and serious enough about learning English, so that they will refrain the other student’s need to interact in any other language. It is necessary to know the students on an individual basis in order to pair them into cooperative and complementary groups or pairs to achieve great productivity.