Students' learning strategies in a large speaking class.

Teaching a large class is really difficult. When we have too many students, there may be problems with classroom management, correcting oral or written work, maintaining rapport with students etc. Therefore, many teachers believe that in large classes, students can’t do well, especially in a speaking class.

However, from my observation of some large classes in Dong Nai, an underprivileged province of Vietnam, this is not really true. Students find their own ways in such classes to make learning fruitful and enjoyable.

These classes are the joint-project between the English Department of HCMC University of Education with the Center of Computer Science and Foreign Languages of Dong Nai province. The former sends teachers to Dong Nai to teach and administers academic issues. The latter is in charge of teaching facilities and administration.

Since Dong Nai is a poor province, in order to cover the training costs, class size must be big. All the three English classes there have from 80 to 100 students. It is interesting to see the strategies these students develop to cope with their class size.

The first thing I notice in these students is the way they make use of the rich pool of human resources available. They tend to bring their varied life experience, opinions, interests and ideas classroom interaction (Ur 1996:305). I realize that they learn quite a lot by finding out about each other. Indeed, the wealth of dissimilarity can be utilized in creating interesting, varied, meaningful and student-centered lessons (Hess 2001). Having large number of peers to interact with turns out to be a social advantage that these students make use of. They understand that learning to work and cooperate with others is a very important part of students’ lives. If a learner does not have enough experience working with students from various backgrounds, he may have difficulty working with people in a world becoming more and more culturally diversified. Therefore, they change their partners all the time. I was quite amazed at the energy and interest they put in their discussions.

Another factor I notice in these classes is that the students are highly motivated. o­nce they are in group work, it takes quite an amount of time to stop what they are doing. This high motivation can be explained by the fact that they have a lot of peers to interact with. In a research o­n advantages and disadvantages of small class size, Yi (2004) finds out that the students will not have a sufficient amount of peers to interact with if the class is small. According to her, interaction with peers is a very important part of students’ lives. If a child does not have enough experience with students of all backgrounds, he may have trouble in the future interacting with students of different backgrounds. Additionally, in a small class, it is quite difficult to keep students interested as they have to interact with people they have known very well. However, in large classes like these there are always enough students for interaction. Even some students or some groups are quite, there are always good noises everywhere. When a group of students see how noisy the other groups are, they try to make their group speak up.

Most interestingly, in those large classes, the teacher is not the o­nly pedagogue. Indeed, with so many levels of language ability, it is natural that the more able students will become teacher-assistants. They can help weaker students to learn and by doing so improve themselves: “Cross-ability grouping allows the more able learners to improve their language skills by honing their ability to explain, to state clearly, and to give effective examples, while it provides the less able with considerable support” (Hess 2001:3). This kind of peer-teaching and collaboration fosters a cooperative atmosphere, which has great educational values. Therefore, teaching and learning in these classes turn out to be very enjoyable for both the teacher and the learners.

From the observation of these classes, I even love to teach large classes. I think, o­nce a teacher knows how to maximize the advantages from the learning strategies of students in large classes, teaching them will be very rewarding.
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Teaching Large Classes

Most teachers agree that teaching a small group of students is easier, more enjoyable, and less time consuming than teaching a large group. Unfortunately, due to budgets, space, or lack of teachers, many ESL schools only offer large classes. In some schools, large classes may consist of up to 50 or more students.

While your class may look more like a University lecture hall, your job is not to lecture. Just like teaching a small class, you must come up with engaging activities that keep all of your students interested and participating with the goal of improving their communication skills.

While there are numerous challenges when it comes to teaching large classes, there are many coping skills and activities that you can use to make your job easier.

Advantages of Teaching Large Classes

* High Energy: Classes with many students may be noisy, but they are also fun and exciting.
* Timing: Classes go by quickly in a large class, and you will rarely catch yourself looking at the clock. You will regularly find yourself with extra activities that you did not complete that you can save and use in your next class.
* Participation: There is always someone who is willing to answer questions even if they are just guessing. Make sure to take answers from a variety of students.
* Fillers: Teachers have less need for fillers since core activities and lessons take longer to complete.

Challenges of Teaching Large Classes

* Intimacy: Remembering student's names can take a while. Teachers may feel that they do not get to know their students as well as they would like to.
* Anxiety: Some teachers feel anxious being so outnumbered by the students. In addition, some students are afraid to ask questions or participate in a large class.
* Student needs: Meeting individual needs can be difficult or impossible when class size is very large.
* Marking: Grading assignments and tests can be very time consuming, and your pay will generally be the same for a smaller class.
* Distractions: There are more distractions for teachers in large classes, such as latecomers and people chatting while you are teaching.
* Preparation: Making photocopies for a large class can be very time consuming. Other teachers may be bothered by how much time you spend using the photocopier.
* Noise level: Large classes can become out of hand when students are working in pairs or groups. At times you may feel more like a disciplinarian than a teacher.
* Monitoring students: Teachers may find it difficult to keep students on task as they monitor pair and group work.
* Space: There is limited space in a classroom for energetic activities such as role-playing.
* Textbooks and resources: There may not be enough textbooks or computers available for all students.

Strategies for Coping with Large Classes

* Use a teacher's notebook: Attach a small notebook and pen to your belt loop. Take notes while you are monitoring pair or group learning. Review common errors as a whole group after an activity is complete.
* Spread out: Find another space that your class can use for energetic whole group activities. Find a lobby or spare classroom in the building that your students can spread out into when they are preparing a project or performance. Take students outside if there is no indoor space available.
* Create a participation grade: Make homework and attendance count by doing regular checks and making it part of their final grade. Giving a daily exam tip also encourages attendance.
* Encourage competition: Establish a fun and competitive atmosphere within the class, by dividing the class into teams. You may change the teams once in a while or leave them the same throughout a semester. Teams can win points for certain accomplishments (If noise and behaviour is a problem, students can lose points too.).
* Relax: Find ways to relax before class so that you don't feel anxious. Never attempt to prepare a lesson in the morning, right before class. Always have a water bottle handy. Always have an extra activity on hand in case something doesn't go as you expect it to.
* Establish trust: Learn unique ways to remember names and do your best to get to know something about each of your students. Create a seating chart on the first day and ask students to stick with it for a while. Tell your students at least one or two things about yourself beyond your role of teaching.
* Manage the noise: Establish a signal that you want your class to stop what they are doing and listen. This should be done from the first day, so that students become accustomed to it right away. Be careful not to use gestures or sounds that would offend anyone.
* Reduce marking and preparation time: Design quizzes and tests in a way so that you can reduce the amount of marking. Use peer evaluations when possible. If students submit journals, just read them and leave a short comment and/or suggestion, rather than fixing every grammar mistake. Designate a specific time when the teacher's room is slow to do most of your photocopying for the week. This will save you from feeling guilty for taking up the photocopier for a long time when another teacher only has a few copies to make.
* Enforce a late policy: Notify students of your late policy on the first day and stick to it. For example, don't let students enter your classroom after a warm-up has ended. If students miss class, make it their responsibility to catch up, not yours.
* Share your e-mail address: In a large class, you will find yourself feeling drained before and after class if you let students come early or stay late to ask questions every day. This alone can make you hate your job, especially if you are not paid for hours when you are not teaching. Encourage students to e-mail you with questions, and answer them on your own time. If you don't like the e-mail suggestion, try finishing your class ten minutes early once in a while and allow your students free conversation time. Take questions on a first come basis during this time.

Activities to use in Large Classes

* Small group discussions: Use topics related to a theme, or ask students to submit topic suggestions.
* Who Am I?: Tape the name of a famous person to the back of each student. Students go around the room asking questions and trying to identify themselves. Once they guess who they are they can place their nametag on the front and continue helping other students identify themselves.
* Team spelling contests: Each student who gets the spelling correct gets a point for their team.
* Balderdash: Large class can be split into teams. Teacher calls out a word and students have to write down the part of speech and definition. Each student to get both correct gets a point for her team.
* Write the question: Large class can be split into teams. The teacher calls out an answer and the students have to write the question. (ex. "Lynn") Each student to write the correct question gets a point. (ex. answer: What's your middle name?")
* Questionnaires: Students circulate around the room asking each other questions. Students can create their own questions on a given topic or theme, or you can provide the questionnaire handout. Follow up by asking each student to report the most interesting answer they received.
* Categories: The teacher calls out a category, such as fruit, and each student has to name a fruit when it is his turn. If a student hesitates for more than five seconds, he or she has to choose a new category and sit out the rest of the game. The last person to get out wins.
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Classical vs. Modern Education - The Principal Difference

"The investigation of the truth is in one way hard, in another easy. An indication of this is found in the fact that no one is able to attain the truth adequately, while on the other hand, we do not collectively fail, but everyone says something true about the nature of things, and while individually we contribute little or nothing to the truth, by the union of all a considerable amount is amassed." - Aristotle [Metaphysics, Bk II, Chap. 1]

Education can be viewed from many different perspectives. One view sees it partly as the transmission of the accumulated knowledge of a society, as per Aristotle, above.

Children are born without culture – they grow up in one, molding their behavior and beliefs towards their eventual role in their society. In primitive cultures, education often involves little formal education and perhaps no schools as such. In some, only one or perhaps a few sacred books are studied. In more complex societies the sheer quantity of accumulated knowledge can take many years of formal education to transmit to the next generation, even if broken up into specialized areas of study. Education itself in such advanced cultures becomes a matter of study since efficient and integrated means of transmission of knowledge become more and more critical. In this article we will take a brief look at classical vs. modern (principally American) progressive education, and the main reason why they do, or fail to, educate our children.#

What do we mean by classical education? From the dictionary definition: the word classical means of, pertaining to, or in accordance with ancient Greek and Roman precedents. Classicism means aesthetic attitudes and principles based on the culture, art, and literature of ancient Greece and Rome... So classical education means the education of ancient Greece and Rome.

What do we mean by progressive or modern education? From the dictionary definition: progressive education means of, relating to, or influenced by a theory of education characterized by emphasis on the individual needs and capacities of each child and informality of curriculum. Modern: of, or pertaining to recent times, or to the present; not ancient.

THE AIMS OF EDUCATION. Above we mentioned that there are many views regarding education and its purposes, depending upon one's perspective. Virtually no one any longer sees education as an end in itself. Education is a means to an end. Therefore any change in the end aimed at will necessarily be reflected in the means of education selected. If our goal is only to produce good coal miners who will work until they drop and cause no problems, then their means of education will be a simple affair. If, however, our goal is to produce well-rounded, cultured gentlemen and ladies, capable of addressing any problem or situation in life with the maximum likelihood both of success and personal happiness, then the means of education to do so will be a much more complicated affair. Any change of means may affect the achievement of the end.

As we noted above, modern, progressive education has as a goal fulfilling the individual needs, interests and capacities of the individual students. This emphasis focuses on what is individual to each student – therefore upon the differences among the students, as if such differences were paramount in determining the means of education employed. It is easy to see that if such differences as there are among students are secondary to what they share in common – their similarities – then the focus of progressive education is misplaced.

If children share only similar physical characteristics, given that no two bodies (not even of "identical" twins post partum) are just exactly alike, then differences in height, genetic makeup, health, test-taking ability, IQ scores, and so on – all those things which individuate them from their fellows -- are indeed of primary importance since they are different in nearly all such things that can be measured physically. In that case, no two children are truly equal (except before the law, in some countries). However, if all children share something in common much more important than their similar yet differing bodies, then that shared commonality, that likeness will be of paramount importance in determining how best to educate them.

Here we come to the crux of the matter. Different conceptions of the nature of man result in different educational goals and means. For those who think or believe that all men share a common human nature and like, immortal souls, then that reality becomes of paramount importance in determining the goals and means of education, which will certainly not be focused primarily on the less important measurable, individual differences of their physical beings (except perhaps in the most unusual cases of physical disability). Instead, education will be focused on the care of that shared human nature – on their immortal souls.

Now the prevailing view of the ancient Greeks, certainly from the time of Socrates on, was that we do have immortal souls. So their education aimed at the care and nurturing of the soul, as being more important than the body. Even so, "a sound mind in a sound body" was one of their key educational notions, but the body was nevertheless viewed as a sort of tomb or prison for the immortal soul - merely an instrument the soul must be housed in and use in this life - from which it would be released at death. Since he believed the soul was immortal and would have some eternal fate based upon its goodness or lack thereof (as do all the major Western religions – Christianity, Islam, Judaism), Socrates' views on education reflected that belief, as did that of his ancient Greeks and the ancient Romans who followed the Greeks. Hence Socrates taught that the one thing needful for the soul was that it should strive after goodness.Since the fate of one's immortal soul hinged on its goodness, then the pursuit of goodness became the principal occupation for the ancient Greeks. Goodness for them consisted of the virtues or habits of good action and thought, in proper order and harmony, leading to wisdom. So to pursue wisdom, and goodness, was to be on one and the same path. But how best to advance on this path? Socrates, beyond all of his philosophical dialogues, felt that one thing in particular was most important: "[I] thought that, because I loved him, my company could make him a better man," [Socratic Aeschines fr. II c, p. 273 Dittmar]. This was the Socratic approach to education in its core: education through love. The emotions as well as the reason, since both are integral parts of human nature, must be included in any education leading to the good. Indeed, education did not mean for Socrates the cultivation of the intellect alone – to the neglect of all else – but since man is attracted to the good first by what is beautiful, education must first begin with the senses, proceed on to the memory, imagination, intuition and intellect, spurred on to all by love. Socrates clearly loved his students, who became his friends – as many as would.

Modern, progressive education, in either denying or ignoring the soul is left with nothing else but the body – the brain, to educate (with competitive sports added helter-skelter). The brain thus conceived as a sort of computer that moves about, rather than goodness or wisdom the goal of human education becomes knowledge in the sense of data storage and retrieval (in the better of the modern schools), and mere political indoctrination in most. Love is irrelevant in such an environment. Indeed, it becomes a distraction from the business at hand and it is considered a defect in a teacher to love his students as friends.

Here now we come to the single greatest advantage homeschooling has over modern public (or private school) education – love. No one can love a child like his or her own parents. A loving parent does, in fact, make for the better person at which Socrates aimed. What empirical science cannot measure (love and goodness), common sense and experience abundantly confirm. The opposite consequences of the absence of love are likewise confirmed.#

What of the genuinely "abusive" home situation or parent? Hard cases make bad law. Because some men are thieves does not mean all men ought to be put in prison. A few rotten apples does not mean we all should quit eating apples. If the alleged abuse is real, then the state may step in, and some sort of public schooling may be the only alternative. But this – the unnatural case - says nothing about the norm, about how children should be educated in the vast majority of families where they are loved. In those families in does not "take a village" – it only takes a loving family.

In the same fragment quoted from above, Socrates stated he believed, "the love I bore...[allowed me to] draw honey and milk in places where others cannot even draw water from wells." That is, love has a power to motivate, an attraction to goodness, beyond the rest of nature, bordering on the miraculous. Ignore the souls of children and so remove love from education and what do you get – modern, progressive "dumbing-down" education where fear and hatred stalk the halls and all too often explode into violence and despair.

Very, very few can learn well in such environments – as sinking test scores and poor academic achievement (such as the growing inability of high schoolers even to read) increasingly confirm.

Homeschooling is so successful relative to public and private school education, despite many obstacles and disadvantages, primarily because children have souls and thrive – in every way - in the loving environment of their families (however small that family may be – two can make a very loving family). Scratch the surface of a modern educator in our schools today and you will find either admirable, well-meaning, dedicated teachers who are increasing forced to truncate their personalities and genuine love for their students by a frustrating, bureaucratic, politically correct, progressive educational model, or someone who is simply up to no good. The newspapers are full of many examples of both types, almost on a daily basis.

In the Athenian custom, the ancient Greeks homeschooled their children until their seventh year, in the poetic mode described elsewhere in this issue. Modern, progressive education pushes taking children from their homes earlier and earlier. The adoption of the German kindergarten model in this country stole one more year from the natural, early home formation of American children. Plans are afoot now to allow the schools to reach back even earlier – to age 4, 3 and even 2 – to take children from the loving culture of their homes. So "successful" are our public schools that they imagine more of the same will solve the very problems they have created.

Classical elementary and secondary education is addressed in other articles in this issue, as is the "poetic" mode of educating via the senses, emotions and intuition. But lest we get lost in the details, it is important occasionally to remember the core of the classical, Socratic way of educating – love.

by Patrick Carmack
Source: Classical Homeschooling
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What makes a good teacher

What makes a good teacher? Like all good recipes, the ingredients for a teacher's success in the classroom are simple, easy to follow, and allow for personal interpretation to enhance the result.

Primarily, a teacher's goal is to motivate her students to reach beyond their grasp. Many children are keenly aware of their weaknesses and special education students are particularly sensitive to being "different". A good teacher helps the child realize her strengths and encourages and challenges the student to learn through those strengths. It is in the day to day process of reaching this goal that the ingredients for making a good teacher come into play.

The best teachers are the ones who teach to the whole child. Their vision of education is not limited to the tangibles of academic achievement but encompasses daily doses of compassion, flexibility, communication, humor, imagination, and the willingness to be open minded. Most importantly, a good teacher is someone who uses both his head and her heart in equal measure throughout the school day. Compassion is in understanding that a student may be frustrated, angry or just unable to focus on the academics at hand. A little extra attention, a hug, a query as to how he is feeling today or the simple expression that the teacher values that student and was glad he was there today is all it takes to make a potentially negative situation into a positive, personal learning experience for the child. Bad days happen to everyone. Deal with the misbehavior, and move on, but be fair and consistent in your discipline.#

Good teachers don't speak negatively about their students to anyone. Flexibility allows the learning environment to be fluid and creative. Be upbeat and positive and ready to adapt to students moods and needs. Maybe the lesson plan can be more effectively learned if the students stand and move about, play a game with the information or talk about something else that is important to them at that moment. Communicate with the student and his parents on a regular basis. The more open and direct the dialogue is among all the parties, the more involved parents and children become in the educational process.

A good teacher is not threatened by parent advocacy. Remember no one knows the child as well as her parents and they can become wonderful allies in developing a strong 24/7 educational plan for the child. Listen as well as talk. Humor. Learn to laugh at yourself, smile and be free to admit mistakes. This lesson is perhaps the most difficult for LD students to learn. LD is not funny, but learning to reduce their level of frustration, and be more accepting of mistakes, allows the students to relax and be more receptive to trying new things. Imagination is all about thinking outside the box. Good teachers are always willing to try new approaches for delivering the information. The unconventional might just be the ticket for helping the LD student pay attention or process the information. The end certainly justifies the means in this case. Along with this is the need to be open minded and receptive to new methodology, research, and the acknowledgement that we can all learn new things everyday. Question the curriculum if it does not benefit your students. Everything is open to change.

But perhaps a child can best explain what make a good teacher:

* She smiles at me.
* She really likes me a lot.
* She misses me when I don't come in.
* I learn a lot in my class.
* It's OK, my teacher will show me how.

(Margaret - on behalf of her 8 year old son, Wilmington, DE)

LD OnLine exclusive.

By: Cheryl Bell Patten (2003)
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What makes a good English teacher?

Think back to your school days for a moment, who were your favorite teachers? Which ones did you learn more from and why?

The chances are that they were ones who made your lessons "come alive". Engage you in your lesson as opposed to the "talk and chalk" variety!

Whilst having a sound academic background and knowledge of your subject is one thing, having the ability to relate to your students and convey your message in understandable, motivational terms is quite another. This means not only being able to relate to your learners but being able to adapt your material to suit their needs, and put it across in the most effective (personable?) form, creating a positive, supportive learning environment.

Teaching a Language

Having been a teacher trainer for many years I have little time for the teacher who delivers the same lesson verbatim, year after year, without considering their individual students' needs and learner types, or those whose ego is so large that they are unable to relate effectively to their students.

To my mind, teaching a language requires different skills to teaching other subjects like History or Math. We don't learn a language by talking about it; we learn a language by talking in it! Once a teacher has presented language, it is the students who should speak and use the language (as it is they who need the practice), and not the teacher talking the highest percentage of time - hence the term TTT -Teacher Taking Time.

Language teachers also need to “rough tune” their language, speaking in terms that are slightly above the level of the learner, rather than over simplify (thus providing a false model) or bombard them with meta-language.

Core Characteristics

Carl Rogers, an American psychologist suggested there are three core teacher characteristics to help create an effective learning environment.

Respect: Being positive and non judgmental in regards to another person
Empathy: Being able to see things from another person's point of view
Authenticity: Being yourself without egoistic barriers or hiding behind a job title
These three qualities a far more likely to induce a more positive learning environment, where students are more inclined to take risks and take responsibility for their own learning. Communication between student and teacher becomes more open and honest and therefore a stronger bond emerges, based on mutual respect.

These qualities should not be “clothes” that a teacher puts on in the classroom. They have to be genuine intentions. A good teacher is one who not only has knowledge of their subject but has the personality to convey it in engaging, motivational terms. Therefore demonstration and participation rather than explanation is often more effective.

In short: An effective language teacher is one that cares more about their students' learning than they do about their own teaching!

(Written by Gill Hart)
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