Many of the teachers I work with have classes of between 40 and 80 students so I reckoned this would be a useful webinar to document. Jason Alexander has worked extensively with African teachers who are frequently required to manage large classes. I did, however, envision something more prescriptive. After having watched the webinar recording, I see Alexander’s rationale for not presenting attendees with prêt-à-porter type strategies, as well as his interesting subtext – a sociocultural approach.
Alexander suggested that the challenge was not just teaching large classes but using an imported methodology conceived for small class contexts. He went on to expand these challenges with areas sourced from Shamim & Kucha:
1. Classroom management e.g. giving instructions, maintaining control and
discipline, organising groupwork)
2. Whole class teaching (e.g. explaining new concepts, question and answer
strategies, using the chalkboard)
3. Working with mixed abilities (e.g. differentiation, getting learners to help
each other, mixed-ability groupwork)
4. Conducting summative assessment (e.g. end of term exams)
5. Limited resources (e.g. coursebooks, posters, easy readers)
6. Providing opportunities for practice (e.g. speaking
practice, using audio equipment, library for reading practice, etc.)
7. Providing feedback/formative assessment (e.g. marking written work,
correcting spoken errors, giving individual help, etc.)
Alexander’s recommendation is to seek answers from other teachers within the institution particularly from non-language teachers as well as the larger community. He suggested that the most viable solutions might come out of the social and cultural context that the classroom sits within, rather than ostensibly expert advice from elsewhere.
He went on to outline an approach, a strategy and an activity that have worked in some contexts but pointed out that he wasn’t suggesting that these would be best practices for everyone’s classrooms.
An approach: Activity based learning
This approach was conceived in the Rishi Valley in India (I did not know that) and involves each student moving at her own speed through the curriculum, completing activities and learning completion tasks. ABL is really popular in some Indian states such as Tamil Nadu where children work autonomously using special activity cards. The teacher’s role is to monitor and support learning, rather than present content.
A strategy: think pair share
This strategy comes from non-language subjects. The teacher asks a question but doesn’t immediately accept answers. Learners think silently for a few seconds and tell their partner. The teacher then nominates learners to share their answers.
An activity: Back translation
This activity is inspired by studies into translation (I think Philip Kerr covered it in his insightful talk – the return of translation) and is potentially useful for writing classes.
- Learners study a model text in L2.
- Learners translate the text into L1.
- The model text is hidden and learners translate their L1 text back into English. If the text is on the board, ask learners to turn around so they’re no longer facing the front of the class.
- Learners compare their English text with the original model text, noting differences, self-correcting errors and assessing work.
Two free booklets on the topic. Both seem really rich and interesting:
- Maximizing learning in large classes from the British Council
- Teaching large classes by Jason Anderson
Finally, here’s Alexander’s article for the British Council’s Voices magazine: What to consider when teaching English in large classes
Image attribution: Classroom by GioRetti | Flickr | CC BY-NC-SA 2.0