Saturday, 5 March 2011
A Happy Accident
I recently had an incredibly exciting and illuminating teaching / learning experience. I would like to tell the story and I invite you to share your reactions and responses.
One of my current classes is a Pre-Intermediate ESOL group of mixed nationalities - Africa, Middle-East, Eastern Europe, Asia and South America. I have the classroom arranged in small island groups, and usually encourage students to sit next to people of different nationalities, so that they can compare and contrast their experiences. However, recently, due to mis-communication, I happened to spend 40 minutes with only four students who all came from Africa. There were two students from Somalia, one from Ghana and one from the Democratic Republic of Congo. We were meeting that day to do some Guidance activities, so I had no 'lesson plan' or materials. We talked. I wrote on the board. The students answered questions, told stories and noted new vocabulary as it arose.
In that short time, we covered a range of topics including: (post-)collonialism, corruption, nepotism, meritocracy, political elites, and emergency aid to Africa. Bearing in mind these students are in a Pre-Intermediate class, I was amazed at how much they were able to contribute to and take from the conversation. Afterwards, we agreed that we would collaborate to write an article for the ESOL magazine about some of the topics we covered.
My admiration was tinged with embarassment for two reasons. Firstly, I felt I had previously underestimated the students' abilities to tackle more complex and abstract concepts, and secondly, I realised that I often allow the more verbose students in the class to dominate at the expense of others.
As a result I hope to introduce more complex subject matter with this group such as political systems, human rights, economics etc. This experience has also prompted me to reconsider the way I group students in class. Perhaps grouping commonalities has as much learning potential as seeking differences.
What do you think about teaching heterogeneous groups and tackling complex topics with 'lower' levels?