Teaching Large Classes Lecture notes
Our ELT world… • The literature on teaching approaches and methods has over the years been dominated by theories and principles developed in favourable teaching circumstances with relatively little attention being given to under-privileged contexts. • ‘…a huge amount of ELT in the world today takes place in situations that are far from the ideal world of pedagogical excitement and innovatory teaching that western ELT researchers and practitioners would like to think they inhabit’. (Maley, 2001) • Smith (2011) argues that most English teaching around the world goes on in large classes with limited resources yet, paradoxically, this kind of context remains under-considered in ‘mainstream’ ELT discourse
Holliday, 1994: BANA vs TESEP contexts • BANA contexts are generally well resourced environments constituted of small groups of students in small classes, undertaking intensive language courses taught by highly trained native speaker teachers, with relative freedom to experiment on content and methodology. • TESEP contexts are by their very institutional nature, constrained by the strong influences of the syllabus, the textbook and the examination. Classes are usually large, under-resourced with a limited time for language in the overall curriculum; teachers are relatively untrained and less proficient in English. • Where do you situate your context? To what extent do you agree with this distinction?
Recent trends… • Recent shift to greater consideration of mainstream education, with large contextual variations in: • class sizes • availability (or not) and nature of resources • Teacher linguistic competence • Teacher pedagogic qualification/competence • Parental expectations vs learners’ abilities • Pressure from high-stake examinations • Other problems?
Two classroom contexts you may meet… • Classes consisting of ‘over 30 pupils (more usually 40 or even 50), congested on benches [...], ill-graded, with a teacher who perhaps does not speak English well […], working in a hot climate (West 1960, p.1). • A classroom of 60 secondary school students who have had to walk a distance of at least 5 miles after doing their morning chores, crammed in a dirty classroom meant for 30; a poorly paid teacher with a rudimentary competence in English language, using a textbook that represents characters from an unfamiliar luxurious culture in a classroom with a pitted and grey blackboard and no chalk at times, and temperatures of 40 degrees Celsius. (Maley 2001)
Class Size • What is the recommended class size in your country? • What to you, is the ideal classroom size? • What would you call a ‘large’ class? • What problems may a large class pose for: • The English teacher? • The English student?
Defining a large class • Teachers tend to define large classes not just in terms of numbers but (mostly) in terms of other variables (Shamim et. al., 2007). • reliance on the largest class they regularly teach (Coleman, 1989) • teacher stress and workload due to large numbers, • teachers' concern about giving equal opportunity to all learners, • issues of classroom management • concerns about assessment and giving feedback to learners • Learners’ perceptions of large classes are shaped by factors that go beyond numbers (Shamim 1993) • lack of adequate space leading to overcrowded classrooms; • inadequate attention from the teacher; • lack of opportunities to participate in classroom activities; • higher levels of disruptive noise in the classroom; • difficulty in getting their written work checked or receiving oral feedback from their teachers
Does class size really matter? • Dick Allwright and Hywel Coleman in the late 1980s led research on large classes: The overall results of this Lancaster-Leeds project seemed to show that large classes are relatively less conducive to learning. • Teachers from developing countries studying in the UK • Questionnaire-based research
Critiques of the Lancaster-Leeds Porject • Peachey (1989) argues that the questionnaire design for the Lancaster-Leeds project presented large classes as difficult in an a priori manner, thus conditioning the opinions of respondents , most of whom, not being directly involved in large class teaching in their countries could neither be representative of their contexts, nor, having just completed a short course in the UK, could their opinions be unaffected by the UK experience. • It is difficult from the questionnaires to clarify which problems of large classes were actually the result of the size of the class and not the outcome of other variables such poor teacher training, lack of adequate teaching materials, or even the adoption of unproductive teaching methods (Oladejo, 1992, p. 52). • Kumar (1992) and Shamim (1993) have argued that a major shortcoming of earlier class size research was that they ignored the mediating variables – learner, teacher, classroom process etc – that impact on and are impacted upon, by the class size variable.
Is a small class better than a large class? • ‘The evidence [in the developing world] provides no support for policies to reduce class size. Of … 30 studies investigating teacher-pupil ratios, only eight find statistically significant results supporting smaller classes; an equal number are significant but have the opposite sign; and almost half are statistically insignificant. These findings qualitatively duplicate those in the US studies. Class size in developing country studies are considerably more varied than those in … US studies and thus pertain to a wider set of environments, providing even stronger evidence that the enthusiasm for policies to reduce class size is misplaced. • (Hanushek et al. (1995) in O’Sullivan, 2006, p. 27)
What do you think…? • …class size has less effect when teachers are competent; and the single most important influence on student achievement is teacher quality. Research shows unequivocally that it is far more valuable, both in education and fiscal terms, to have good teachers than lots of teachers (Buckingham 2003, p.71).