This article examines the issues of multilevel approach to language teaching at nonlinguistic university, а brief overview of advantages and disadvantages of applying this approach was given.
Keywords: multilevel approach to language teaching, difference in language backgrounds, advantages and disadvantages, challengesof teaching, language skills.
В статье рассматриваются вопросы многоуровневого подхода при преподавании иностранного языка в неязыковых университетах, дан краткий обзор преимуществ и недостатков применения этого подхода.
Ключевые слова: многоуровневый подход при преподавании иностранного языка, различия в языковой подготовке, преимущества и недостатки, трудности при преподавании, языковые навыки.
It is obvious that there are many groups at nonlinguistic university which are multilevel. Students differ in their language backgrounds, abilities, attitude toward language, individual characteristics of perception, learning styles, interests, etc. That is why no one teacher can expect all the students to be able to do the same tasks in the same way at the same time and with the same interest. The choice of appropriate approach to teach the English language skills in multilevel groups is valid.
On the other hand, teaching in multilevel groups meets lots problems and obstacles. It is quite difficult to cope with discipline, not to lose students’ motivation, to encourage students to help one another, etc. Another problematic point for techers is the time. Preparation for a lesson requires a huge amount of time.
The arguments have already been discussed by teachers all over the world. Multilevel teaching is not new. All the teachers pay big attention to the use of the multilevel approach at the lessons. There are a lot of books developed for each level. The main difficulty lies in the selection and use of tasks of a differentiated degree or complexity.
The main aim of the research was to reveal the advantages and disadvantages of the multilevel approach applying at nonlinguistic university, namely medical university.
To identify the advantages and disadvantages an experiment was held. There was a group of first –year students who took part in this experiment. Firstly, to obtain the information about students’ language competence, tests and the interview were conducted. According to these findings students were divided into four subgroups. Among 14 students there were 2 Beginner –level-students, 6 — Elementary–level-students, 4 — Pre-intermediate–level-students, and 2 — Intermediate–level-students. Students were being asked about their objectives as well (e.g. improving writing skills, learning colloquial English, understanding grammar rules).
During the term (from September to December) they were taught as multilevel group. It was found a core textbook which is in series of different levels. Of course, it was incredibly complicated to utilize multilevel activities and to keep all the students working. Not all the lessons were perfect. However, there was a tendency that students improved their skills from lesson to lesson. Moreover, students with higher level of English were really valuable; they “taught” their group mate. This way, teaching to someone else, they practiced and improved their language.
To develop students’ skills in Reading, Speaking, Writing, Listening, Vocabulary tasks of different complexity were utilized.
When talking about levels, such as Beginner, Elementary or even Pre-Intermediate, it was observed that using combination of Reading and Listening tasks, namely when reading students had an opportunity to listen the texts/extracts/conversation, was more effective than reading without “audio guides “.
Here are some examples which were used at the lessons. Beginner–level-students might focus on such tasks as Complete the sentences or answer the questions, whereas elementary–level-students may work in pairs and work out the text by asking each other questions (they both have their questions and answers to them). Partner has to find the answers in the text. Students of Pre-intermediate level marked sentences true or false and had to say why the false ones were false. Tasks for Intermediate students might include work in pairs. They read one text each, and then they tald the story to the partner answering given questions. Work with definitions.
For the development of Speaking skills there were a big range of tasks used. So for example, as Lead-in for the topic “Family”, beginner–level–students got the task: Look at the photos. Complete the sentences with a word from the list (it’s a photo of a ____). Elementary –level-students looked at the photos and asked three questions about each person (e.g. Who is that? How old is she? …) Students of Pre-intermediate level explained the difference between pair of words (e.g. a father and a parent, a mother and a stepmother, a brother and a brother-in-law etc.) Intermediate students looked at some photos showing family members. Their task was to define the relationship between the people.
When listening students meet many difficulties (a large volume of text, many speakers). Listening for Beginners should include only 5–6 sentences. This amount is easy to understand. Task is to answer 3 questions. According to the topic “Family”, questions may be following:
Where’s his mother from?
What’s his sister name?
How old are her children?
Listening for Elementary students may include 10–15 sentences, one question to define the main idea. They have to write down more information about each member.
Pre-Intermediate and Intermediate student listen to a journalist talking about position in a family. The task for the former is to write down adjectives of personality for each group (oldest children, middle children, youngest children, only children), the task for the later is to describe each group basing on the notes of Pre-Intermediate student.
Writing was definitely used at our lessons. It was generally done by students at home, but sometimes they wrote at the lessons. Beginners had to write about their families 5–6 sentences. A sample was offered. (My name is Alice and I’m from Toulouse in France. This is a photo of my family. My father’s name is Henri, and my mother’s name is Cecile. I have a sister and a brother. We have a dog. His name is Toto.)
Writing task for Elementary students was to write about people in their families, using their names, ages, jobs, etc.
Higher level students wrote a description of one of their family member (a sample was given). In their description they had to use vocabulary such as ambitious, reliable, stubborn, self-confident, etc.
Our experiment was a success. In two months’ time 2 student of Beginner level were “transferred“ into Elementary–level–student, 1 Elementary–level-student — into Pre-intermediate–level-student. At the end of the term all the students took end-of-course test (according to their level). The results were following:
2 Beginner –level- students coped brilliantly with the test for Elementary –level in Grammar, Vocabulary, Listening, Reading and Speaking (90 and 92 points out of 100 respectively)
6 — Elementary –level- students (100, 95, 90, 90, 80, 75 out of 100)
4 — Pre-intermediate–level- students (90, 85, 85, 75)
2 — Intermediate–level- students (95, 92)
Basing on this experiment the major advantages and disadvantages were identified.
Firstly, it was noted the importance of usage of multilevel approach. Some key positive points of applying this approach were proved. It was observed that students really had opportunity to learn at their pace, due to this chance they improved their language competence, as a result they became confident, gained motivation to continue studying English, some students improved their relationship in group (they had to work in pairs or teams), participants became more independent in learning process.
On the other hand, there were a lot of challenges met. The preparation, finding appropriate book and additional material for the individual needs of each student required much more time. Since it is intrinsic to know exactly what students need to work on in order to achieve the best results. The next complex thing was to maintain the students’ interest, students of all the levels had to be challenged.
In conclusion, it is obvious that there are advantages and challenges of teaching multi-level groups. When faced with the challenge the majority of teachers do not know where to start. They are afraid of workload, of not finding the appropriate materials, and of students. Students are quite demanding nowadays. Preparation requires a huge amount of time. However, advantages overweigh all the existing disadvantages. Having overcome all the challenges, teacher can achieve success.
- Hess, Natalie (2001), Teaching Large Multilevel Classes, Cambridge, CUP
- Richards, Stephanie (2004), Teaching Mixed Ability Classes, Teachers' Club, OUP