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Activity A: Grouping Students in Multilevel Classes
Multilevel classes are often a response to low enrollment. Teachers may have two adjacent levels, such as Level III and Level IV, or more divergent ones, such as Level I and Level IV. Multilevel classes involve differing goals, objectives, and expectations for proficiency and other learning outcomes for students at different levels. Making decisions about when to group, how to group, and when to bring the whole class together is critical to successfully teaching in this environment.
One approach is to use themes. This allows teachers to design activities that align and challenge both groups. In this activity, you will begin to plan a unit for a multilevel class, focusing on strategies for group and whole-class instruction. You can use the Grouping Multilevel Classes (PDF, 54 K) form.
- List the levels in your class. You can focus on a class that you are currently teaching, a class that you have taught in the past, or consider a hypothetical class.
- Identify a theme that you would like to use with all of the levels. For example, you could focus on life in the city, suburbs, and country in your region or in a country in which your target language is spoken. Keep in mind that almost any theme can be spiraled. Spiraling provides an opportunity for students to extend their knowledge on a subject as they advance in their language study. For example, weather is a typical theme in beginning courses. Students often learn basic expressions, such as "it is warm" and "it is raining." When students go on to the next level course, they might access a Web site and read weather reports -- a task that gives them the opportunity to learn more sophisticated language on this topic. But if students in the advanced course move on to environmental issues, such as rain forest preservation, without learning language that goes beyond basic statements about or descriptions of the weather, they may have difficulty.
- Draft the communicative outcomes for students in each level. The following is an example using the theme of life in the city, suburbs, and country:
- Level I: Students brainstorm a list of features of life in the city, suburbs, and country. Students also express their preferences for 1) where they want to live now, and 2) where they want to live when they are adults, and give reasons why.
- Level II: Students read about a major city and a small town or rural village in a country where the target language is spoken. They use what they learn to decide on a place to stay for three months.
- Level III: Students interpret a literary text or film that explores the theme of city versus country life, and they discuss what life was like in each of these places during a given era. (For example, students might read excerpts from Madame Bovary or view scenes from the movie that relate to her trip into the city and her view of life in the city versus life as a country doctor's spouse.)
- Draft the cultural and/or content outcomes for students in each level. For example:
- Level I: Students acquire terminology for city and country attractions and compare the two areas (social studies connection).
- Level II: Students acquire information about the geography, historical settings, cultural events, and recreational attractions in a city and village in a target country.
- Level III: Students acquire information about life in rural and urban areas and gender roles during specific historical time periods. They also address common human characteristics and frailties.
- Sketch out activities that you could do with each level. Try to identify activities that you could do as a class, in multilevel groups, and in single-level groups. Use the following questions to guide you:
- What sources/materials can you use with differentiated tasks? (For example, in Level I, students could make a sketch of a home based on its description in a real estate ad. In Level II, students might read the ad and develop a series of questions to ask the realtor. In Level III, students could develop a Web site for the seller that further elaborates on the description of the home.)
- In which part of the lesson should students at different levels work on common tasks? What kinds of materials are appropriate for each group, in terms of both the task and that group's proficiency level? (For example, students in all levels might engage in a common interpretive task to learn more about life in the city, suburbs, and country, but they use different materials that reflect their proficiency levels. In Level I, students could look at two pictures accompanying a target-language magazine article: one of a city and the other of a rural village. They would generate lists of what they see, mark these observations as positive or negative features in their opinion, and create an argument for living in one place or the other. In Level II, students could read the article from the same magazine using pre-reading skimming/scanning and close reading questions provided by the teacher. In Level III, students could read an article about urban decay in a target-language country. They would also use pre-reading skimming/scanning and close reading questions provided by the teacher, and then outline a city plan for improving conditions.)
- How do you check that students at each level are challenged when they work together? (For example, can beginners keep up with the task? Are advanced students acting more as tutors, or are they also learning?)
Submit your thematic unit plan for a multilevel class as an assignment.
- What activities can groups at one level do on their own while you work with groups at another level? (If you are working with more than two levels, describe what each level will be doing.)
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