Since a lot of us will be language teachers soon, this discussion will focus on two indispensable parts in language teaching, writing and speaking. In writing and speaking, there is no model answer so the progress and the outcome vary from one student to the other. So how should we tackle this situation?
First of all, I would like to talk about tackling students’ different progress. Since students have different abilities, some will surely finish a task faster than the other. This happens very often in writing tasks, resulting in some high achievers daydreaming for half an hour while others are still working. Therefore, teachers should have a plan for those who can finish early (Tomlinson, 2001).
In this situation, I suggest that teachers could use anchor activities to keep those high achievers busy (Tomlinson, 2001). Here is my example of using anchor activity to tackle the individual difference. Some students may finish half an hour early in a task writing letter of complaint, provided that they complete with competence. The teacher may ask those students to complete an anchor activity, which is writing another letter to reply to the letter of complaint they wrote. Writing the reply letter is a more challenging task so the high achievers could try to attempt instead of daydreaming in class. Also, the reply letter is highly related to the original task. Therefore, the students can learn more related writing skills through this anchor activity.
What do you think about using anchor activities in writing class? What other strategies can be employed in writing or speaking class?
Tomlinson, C.A. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms (2nd ed.). Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
I totally agree with you, Ka Yu Fung that those learners that have a facility for the language should be challenge when they finish their task faster that the other collegues.
However, this can have the contrary effect we want and instead of challenging him and making him more interested in the language it can end up in seeing it as more work that the rest of the class. For this reason, I think that although the anchor exercise it is good I would try to make it more dynamic and interesting for him. This way, we would not see it as more work to do but as a way to learn more, improve and be the best one.
One reference about "The Effects of Grouping Practices
and Curricular Adjustments on Achievement" is found. You may use it as reference in supporting your claims.
Sure, anchor activity is a method. But there is one more situation I'd like to raise, which I think is more important and often encountered when it comes to writing and speaking teaching.
It is the quality of work not the time use that differentiates students more usually in writing and speaking tasks, that is, students with low competence can also finish their work very fast( sometimes even faster than the more able ones, cuz work quality is not considered!) In such a circumstance, anchor activity is not the way the handle such a learning difference. In my opinions, a more effective way to solve the problem is grouping. It is hard to have a mixed group of student aim at the same goal in writing and speaking tasks, the students' abilities of which are highly dispersed. Therefore, homogeneous grouping is more suitable, in which we can set different standards of achievement for students.
Take a concrete example. In a classroom, some students may have understood what 'three elements of an argumentative writing' are while some may have not. The former group can be assigned to writing paragraphs with more advanced methods of arguments such as counter-argument or learn some types of fallacies while the latter group should write paragraphs with the three elements of an argumentative writing. This is to prevent giving an general and abstract goal to the whole class, resulting in very dispersed outcomes, in which more able students are not necessarily finishing their work faster or vice versa.
Hello, my name is Eduard and I'm from Universitat De Les Illes Balears (UIB) in Mallorca, Spain. It is always a difficult situation for a teacher to handle. One option raising the difficulty of activities, however, this might cause the students who are behind to experience further hardships in tackling the activities. Nevertheless, the faster students finish and are left with nothing to do (dismissing class earlier than the schedule is out of the question), the faster they can become disruptive and that is a real challenge to the classroom atmosphere more than some students having difficulties in performing certain tasks.
I would like to reply to Ka Yu FUNG's statement, with specific reference to anchor activities.
I believe that students who work quicker than others (and obviously finish earlier their tasks) may feel unmotivated with an even more challenging activity after finishing the former one. I agree that practice benefits writing skills (all of them really) but I also see that students need to be rewarded, not overcharged with an extra challenging task after finishing their work (properly). Thus, activities following the major task should be encouraging. Otherwise students would not want to finish as quick as they would to, given that they would be overcharged, as I mentioned before.
A great alternative, as I see it, may be to group students who have already finished the task woth those who have not finished yet, so one student can help the other. This way, quicker students may feel encouraged and motivated.
Yes I do agree that students might be reluctant to have a more challenging task if they finish their work earlier than their counterparts. Some students may treat more work as a punishment. They would think in such a way that why they should pay more effort when they actually succeeded to finish their work very efficiently. Even if a student is highly gifted, it does not imply that they are highly motivated students. Indeed, most of them might even have got some special educational needs, which make them unwilling to work for more.
I may add on some more on this later. Thanks!
It is true that students who are capable to finish their homework or tasks earlier than the others could think that they are overcharged of work or punished with more tasks. From my point of view it is not fair giving them extra activities, I think they could do dinamic activities and games related to the topic of the tasks, in other words, work that engcourages and motivates them to keep on studying and doing their tasks with enthusiasm. As many of you have said above, I do agree with the idea of joining the ones who have finished with the ones who have not. Moreover, I understand the position of the ones who finish later, as they can feel frustrated when seeing their classmates playing games or doing more dinamic activities. For this reason, I think that the best option would be to put all the students together so they could learn from each other.
When teaching a language you will encounter a huge variety of learners, all of them with different strong and weak points, different ways of learning and individual characteristics that distinguish one from the other. The idea of how to tackle individual differences has worried teachers for a long time, and these individual differences are particularly evident in speaking and writing skills. The first step that teachers should take is to be aware of the level differences between the students and have an account of those who have more facility and those who are not that advanced. When it comes to the speaking part, it is very important to both entertain the more advance learners with more demanding topics as this will prevent boredom, but also to keep in mind that not all students will belong to this advanced group. If it is difficult to separate the groups, teachers should just expect a higher level from those who have a better command of the language when carrying out speaking activities. In my school years, they did not separate students from different levels in speaking related tasks and this could suppose an advantage as the possibility of pairing students with different levels so they could learn from eachother could arise. This can also happen in writing tasks, and it is related to the idea that has already been mentioned about students who finish first their task helping the slower students. I believe that companionship is one of the best qualities and certainly one very important one in a class full of students which are all different. By merging the students, learners would gain experience about companionship, patience, and both groups would learn from one another.
Hi everyone. I agree with Casper that usually some gifted students treat extra works as a punishment since they do their work quickly most because of they want some more resting or free time. If they are not highly motivated to do the following anchor activities, the tasks will be just a time-killing strategy, but not making them achieve more. Besides, let the quicker students helping others can be another way, but we need to notice that some quicker students also treat helping other classmates as a boring or even annoying work. They may not fulfill their responsibility properly at last. Teachers should be very careful when asking students to do the anchor activities since every students have different personalities. Teachers should understand them more before asking them to do more, or else they can not really achieve the expected good result.
How about the special arrangements to tackle individual differences during speaking tasks? Can we think of other new ways?
Hi all. Seeing many of you discussing on this topic is nice.
I understand some students may see doing more work as a punishment, especially primary or junior secondary students. Some of them may not have the motivation to learn as they may see doing class work as a burden. In this case, I think we have to be very careful when choosing anchor activities, if we really want to use this strategy.
However, I have some experience of teaching senior secondary students in tutorial classes, in which they show positive attitude towards anchor activities. Since the senior secondary students need to face the public examination, they understand that doing more work helps them to improve. A lot of them are willing to do it without having the feeling of being punished.
Yet, for the primary or junior secondary students, anchor activities are indeed not the best strategy. Do you guys have any suggestions on this?
For the case of tackling the individual differences in writing, I am wondering if we could adopt the strategies of using tiered assignments instead. This would be better than using anchor activities as one of the ideas of designing different tasks of tiered assignments is to keep each task "equally active, interesting, and interested so one is not perceived as more work than the other" (Heacox, 2009, p.86). Instead, the nature of the task is different in the way that requires different levels of cognitive skills to complete. Perhaps in this way students' learning needs could be addressed, without showing a reluctance to having more or less work than other students do?
As for speaking tasks, the focus perhaps should shift from the difference in work progress to students' contribution within a group. Probably mixed-ability grouping is a better way to address the issue when carrying out group speaking activities or various communicative tasks. If there are students of mixed abilities within a group, they could scaffold each other in their contributions. This may also be able to prevent having a group where no one speaks at all, or having another group where all students have a row.
Any ideas? :-)
Sorry, I would like to add back a reference item I have cited in my previous reply:
Heacox, D. (2009). Making Differentiation a Habit. Minneapolis, MN: Free Spirit.
As far as speaking tasks is referred, I also think that group tasks, mixing different levels, is encouraging for all the members (encouraging your classmates and learning from your equals). But in order to keep all studes interested and willing to speak, I think that it is essential to choose current topics and topics related to their interests. Besides, in order to make the most of the speaking lesson, it should be advisable to ask them to bring vocabulary and idioms about the topic that is going to be discussed.
Definitely. When it comes to the second language, which is English in Hong Kong, we should give the students related vocabulary, especially when we teach students with lower standard. Giving them related vocabulary can give them a sense of security. This may encourage them to speak up. Otherwise, they will not feel safe enough to engage in the speaking class.
Students' readiness is highly differentiated in a class. In Hong Kong, the proportion of speaking teaching time is very small and catering for the differentiation. As I know, EDB suggests, for students with special education needs in speaking, such as Communication Disorders, teacher should have them exempt from speaking exams. It true that it's a way to prevent discouraging the substandard students but not a method to solve the problem.
Tiering could be a special arrangement for differentiated abilities in speaking. For example, we can have the substandard students discuss in a group of 2(maybe with his good friend) a specific topic to make them accustomed to speaking atmosphere. Also, some students are unable to construct idea. We may supply more preparation time for them or even give the the discussed question in advance so that they can prepare it at home beforehand.
For the case of SEN students, it should be treated specially. Due to the implementation of inclusive education in Hong Kong, I understand it is more common to find SEN students in 'normal' classroom. From my experience in Year 2 observing a secondary school adopting the whole-school approach to inclusive education (HKRSS Tai Po Secondary School), they have the resources to employ SEN teaching assistants for handling these students' difficulties in understanding or producing spoken English discourses. But in general schools with SEN students, this approach may be unrealistic. Exemption may then be the only choice.
But this would in turn curb the learning opportunities of those students? Instead of just doing exemption and nothing else, perhaps some pull-out remedial programmes could be provided to these students to help them develop necessary skills?
Ref. to Casper's comment, I agree that doing exemption will be a choice but not a way to tackle the problems faced by SEN students.
Ideally, providing remedial classes to students who are week at speaking is a better choice. However, it requires lots of resource including teachers and moeny! Is there any scheme provided by EDB to sponsor school to hire TA or etc.? I think remeidal classes can be arranged after class. Moreover, I think teachers should keep records(like learning profiles) of students'preformance every class學習歷程檔案. So that every teacher can catch up with students' ability and to help them more efficiently.
My own experience tells me that when we have to cater to SEN students, especially focusing on their speaking and writing skills, it is extremely difficult to force them to complete task or just simply stay on the task. Due to the different nature of these group of students, they may find it hard to concentrate. What we usually neglect is their feelings. When we talk about individual difference, it is not only about students' learning abilities or background. Sometimes, we also need to care about how different individuals feel. The most common feelings share among the SEN students is the sense of failure and inferiority. On one hand, exemption can be an effective solution that we put less pressure on these students. On the other hand, when they have long been exempted from various tasks, they will soon notice the big discrepency between themselves and the normal class.
Personally, I think there can be alternatives to deal with these SEN students. For instance, they can take the initiative to monitor their own learning progress. When they fail to take part in speaking or writing activities during normal lessons, they can still accompolish the task on their own or with the help of their parents. There can be tailor made activities that suit the level of this group of students. Asking other "normal" students to understand their situation is also an important issue.
First of all, I think “no model answer” should not be a problem of tackling individual differences. Instead, I think it means the students can try to explore more by using their creativity. The students can finish their tasks with the ways they like the most. For example, if we are going to assess the context’s organization of writing and speaking, the students can write and speak according to their interests by using certain framework. I think providing choices are really important for tackling individual differences.
I do agree with Casper that tier task is a nice idea so that students with different ability, interest and learning profile can choose the most suitable task. Besides, I think the strategy of tic-tac-toe can be used. Even though there is no model answer, we do have some assessment criteria or some main point to assess. Let say we aim to assess the organization, context and the vocabulary used of the composition (/speech), we can set different tasks regarding this three domains and let them choose which do to do.
Moreover, I think it’s nice for Crystal Tang Chui Ying to mention the students’ learning profiles. As we all know, differentiated assessment is an ongoing process which includes both formative and summative assessment. We need to keep checking the students’ learning progresses and to provide them with suitable assists. Questioning can be used to assess students’ understanding of the writing and speaking skills. For example, we can ask if they know how to build up the framework of their composition (/speech). Through their responses and reflection, we can adjust our assists. Also, providing constructive feedback is important for differentiated assessment. By studying the feedback, students know more about their strength and weakness. Therefore, they can improve and make progress in their studies.
By the way, I think we can take a look of the below article which is posted on the BlackBoard. Even it mainly focus on the writing strategies of the NCS students, I think the use of graphic organizer and story map can be used in both writing and speaking, especially when writing or telling story.
Besides, its idea of combing writing and speaking is interesting. As the skills required of writing and speaking are closely related, like organization, the choice of words, and etc. So maybe we can think if this also works for local students who speak Chinese as the first language.
Since students have different interests, if we use the same writing or speaking topic for all students, they may not be interested. I suggest teachers could make use of the IT to help. Since students have mobile phones which can take photos. Teachers could ask them to take a photo which they have interest in as a speaking or writing topic. This could pay attention to their interests. If they cannot take their photos, they can search a photo on the search engines.
Do you think it is a possible idea?
I think IT is a very good tool to help students with writing and speaking. We may also use videos to help with the writing and speaking class as well. Some students may be good at imagining through visual stimulations. In this case, videos can help. Since YouTube is very popular, we can find almost every type of video on YouTube. This is a possible way of getting ideas for the writing and speaking lessons.
Are you meaning search in class or search outside classroom? I think it is theoretically possible if we ask them to search outside class. However, practically, most students will just pick a easy topic. Will that affect their learning? How about we choose some topics, for example 3 to 4 from different aspects or question type, and ask the students to choose among these topics. Although this method may not take care to all students learning interest, it can help us to control the difficulty of questions.
Do you have any suggestion on this method or other better idea?
To a certain extent, I agree with Yee Kei's point. It's hard for teachers to control the topics that students choose. But this is exactly what I am trying suggest. We don't control at all, as we want them to choose what they really want to do. We want them to take the lead.
However, I have to admit this activity has its limitation as Yee Kei mentioned. Therefore we can't use it as an assessment, especially if we need to calculate the marks or give the grades. We may use it as a hook.
I agree that we can use let the students choose their interested topics freely in some hook activities, since students only have motivations to do their works when they are interested in it. We can give them some tips and suggestions before let them go and choose, give them some examples to control their final choices. But when it comes to the times of exams and assessments, we can use Yee Kei's way.
I think Kayu's idea is nice. For taking care of the different interest of students,students can choose their own topics according to their will. However, the big topic should be the same. For example,the writing/speaking topic is "My favourite food". Then the students can take photos on their favourite food,they can be apple,orange,vegetable,etc.. But to ensure that the photos that students took should be under the same theme so that the learning objective or focus would not be shifted.
Btw,you mentioned abt ICT.I think it is good to adopt ICT in the writing/speaking teaching. For example, we may play some demo video in class. Moreover, we can use Weblog to enhance writing and Soundcloud to enhance speaking,etc.. Anyway,by using ICT, the class may be more flexible and interesting.
If what we want is to be future teachers, we will have to face at any time a common problem which daily exists in classes. There are students (it does not mind the level) which are not at the same level as the rest of their mates. Thus, when for instance some of students have finished a series of activities, there are others that need some more time to conclude with them. Therefore, a good solution which can be applied to these kind of problems could be to prepare some reinforcing activities to do at home for these weaker students.
However, they don't have to see them as something bad (because they can think they are not good at the language) but as something that will help them.
Hi Sara. You mentioned to prepare some reinforcing activities to do at home for these weaker students. However, can they finish the task themselves? These weaker students usually have weaker metacognition and self-learning ability. I just afraid they can't finish the reinforcing task without the help. I think these reinforcing activities should be organised after class.
FUNG Ka YuCHAN Hiu Cho, ShirleyWONG Tsz Kiu, CasperTSANG Tsz Him, RexYIP Kam Tin