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Solid teaching strategies need to be in place to ensure every English language learner is learning regardless of their ability - according to Monica Poulter, who worked for many years at Cambridge Assessment English and now teaches English online. She made the comments at an online event for the global English teaching community.
She was speaking at the Cambridge Live Experience 2020, an event organised to help teachers get ready for the unpredictable months ahead. Monica emphasised the importance of teachers getting to know their learners so they can really understand how they differ from each other. This includes understanding the differences learners have in the areas of ability, motivation, interests, personality, parental support and the progress they have made during the global pandemic. She also gave practical tips and strategies that teachers can use to support mixed ability learners as they make the transition back to the classroom.
She emphasised that as English language teachers from around the world return to teaching either physically or online, they will almost certainly come across the challenges of teaching mixed ability classrooms. Responding to those challenges is called differentiation and the gap between learners could be bigger than ever when considering the different opportunities for access to learning and levels of support students have received during lockdown. For this reason it’s essential that teachers use effective strategies to get the best from their class and ensure that every learner makes progress. This includes showing great adaptability and making sure that challenges and tasks are set to appropriate levels and are designed to engage learners.
Monica also explained how mixed abilities present challenges across all four of the key language skills. The practical tips and strategies Monica showcased centred around the importance of setting challenges and tasks at the right level. She explained how challenges associated with reading and listening tasks can be increased or reduced according to students’ abilities and motivation. She demonstrated the use of visuals to engage readers, and stressed the importance of providing extension tasks for ‘fast finishers’.
She also discussed how teachers can provide support in writing tasks by using frames, and how they can make the best use of contact time through an integrated skills approach at higher levels.
She ended by showing how classroom management techniques and use of teacher language can ensure an inclusive classroom.
The Cambridge Live Experience was organised by Cambridge Assessment English and Cambridge University Press English Language Teaching. It included a packed programme of talks on a range of themes including advice on transitioning back to the physical classroom, online learning, socially distanced teaching, understanding learners’ levels and providing emotional support. The event proved popular with registrations of 50,000 teachers from 162 countries around the world. It generated 105,000 live views of the sessions during the event and 370,000 views after the event.