Probably the second biggest challenge our teachers face is teaching students of different abilities, in the same classroom.
Our students’ abilities range widely, but our teachers have only ever taught ‘to the middle’. That middle is generally whatever is in the textbook, so anyone who is above the level of the textbooks is bored, and anyone below it finds it very difficult to keep up.
Part of the solution to this lies in making sure students are in the right classes to begin with.
The teachers would argue that one of the reasons our students’ abilities range so much is that they are under pressure to promote students to the next class at the end of each year, whether or not they are ready, or have passed the end of year exams. But there is no research to show that making a student repeat a year helps them at all, so the problem doesn’t lie there.
Another better reason is that when a new student arrives at the school we do not have a rigorous system in place to assess them and find the right class for them. Furthermore, if a student has a document from another school saying they have passed, say Class 5, the school feels compelled to put them in Class 6, whether or not they are ready for it.
We have begun to challenge this, and in the past few weeks we have moved three students down two classes, and one student up one class, to better match their ability level. We’ve also asked teachers to use textbooks (for Extra English and Maths – it’s harder to do this with compulsory government subjects) that are at the students’ level, regardless of whether the books are meant for that class. So for example, our Class 5 students are using Class 3 maths and English textbooks. In both cases, we were warned that parents would complain or remove their children from the school, but this has not happened.
We’ve also started an Extra English class before school for students who are weak in English, and will shortly do the same for Maths. And we’ve divided our Class 10 students into two groups for their early morning coaching classes, which means they get much more personalised tuition.
However, the more important challenge is to give teachers the skills (and the mindset) to teach students of different abilities in the same class. We’ve tried to say to our teachers that all students must be supported and challenged. But how? The simple answer is to plan your resources, activities and questions at three levels.
The easiest example is when you give students questions – instead of giving them all one question, write three questions on the board (easy, medium and difficult) and ask students to answer whichever one they can. Better still, put nine on the board, three at each level, so when students have finished one, they can get started on another. No student should ever be sat in a classroom with nothing to do.
Here’s another simple example, three levels of questions on a handout in English:
And here’s a teacher using four distinct activities in a Class 1 / Nursery English class. Days of the week, vocabulary, matching small and big letters, writing just letters:
And here’s a short video of a Class 1 / Nursery science lesson with a card sort activity and a written activity. The lesson was about the different between living and non-living things and the cards can be understood be students at three levels – a picture (of a living or non-living thing), and its name in both Nepali and English. The written activity was to either write the name of a living or non-living thing using a template (for nursery students) or to write the names of living or non-living things in the appropriate column (for Class 1). Password: janauddhar