Magazine 2012
Inclusiveness and Individualized Instruction  
to Realize Potential in Large Classes  
Dr. Susmita Dey  
KETb s V. G. Vaze College of Arts, commerce and Science, Mumbai  
The undergraduate b Communication Skills in Englishb  class in suburban Mumbai colleges is characterised by  
a mix of students from both English and regional medium schools. They have varying levels of language  
proficiency, which however, is no reflection of their other competencies.  
This paper presents a learner-centred CLT based classroom activity that can address the challenges posed by  
the situation.  
Initially, the class is divided into heterogeneous groups to enhance cooperative learning. All members of the  
group voluntarily contribute to the completion of the project.  
The next activity is peer - mentoring. Students, who are competent in English, lead the activity of identifying  
errors and making corrections. The teacher clarifies doubts, on a group-to-group basis.  
The various groups then present their projects to the class.  
Focused remedial work through teaching and tutorials is the final stage of the activity. Homogenous groups  
are again formed, this time on the basis of language competence. Customized classroom teaching followed  
by intensive tutorial activity reinforces correct language use.  
The learning that results from this active classroom is one of sustained interest and lasting value as against  
boredom or indifference that often characterize passive conventional classrooms.  
Ideally, it is hoped that students will be highly-motivated and linguistically able with abundant time and  
resources, but the reality is rather different. The Indian situation complicates matters further due to the sheer  
magnitude of numbers of students in the class. The typical English language classroom in Mumbai is a melting  
pot of about a hundred students with a variety of interests, abilities and goals. They come from a varied socio-  
economic- educational backgrounds. Logistics adds further variety to the composition of a classroom. So,  
virtually, every classroom comprises mixed ability and multi-level students. . (Prodromou, 1992, p. 11).  
An easy way out for teachers is to address the majority of middling students and ignore the two extremes- the  
very bad and the very good. But, is this a fair deal? Everybody should get something out of the class!  
Potential Solutions- Homogenous and Heterogeneous grouping  
To find an effective coping strategy, one usually turns to ELT literature which throws up a great number of  
ideas, models and techniques, but such inputs only help broaden horizons and initiate out-of-box thinking.  
The single most important parameter of a classroom is the group of students, and since this varies from class  
to class, the teacher needs to adapt ideas and evolve a personal teaching methodology for every class that s/  
he teaches.  
A renewed interest is seen worldwide in the grouping of students in classrooms for effective learner centred  
education and increased motivation to learning. Good and Brophy (1994 p.212) hold that these concerns have  
emerged from two contradictory views: a) that learning should be fun and that any motivation problems that  
may appear should be ascribed to the teacherb s attempt to convert an enjoyable activity to drudgery; and b)  
that school activities are inherently boring and unrewarding, so that we must rely on extrinsic rewards and  
punishment with a view to forcing students to engage in these unpleasant tasks.  
One way to get around the problem, is to group students homogenously and encourage the class to use  
English in classroom exchanges. However, Rinvolucri (1986, p. 17) states, b We do not teach a group, but thirty  
separate people. Because of this, the problem of mixed abilities in the same room seems absolutely natural,  
and it is the idea of teaching a unitary lesson that seems oddb .  
Research reviews on homogenous ability based grouping in classrooms by Barker-Lunn, 1970; Kulix & Kulix,  
984; Gamoran & Berends, 1987; Slavin, 1987; Good & Brophy, 1991; Kulik & Kulik,1992 ; Ireson,et al,1999;  
show generally weak and mixed effects on achievements made. Further, Good & Brophy, have identified at  
least four types of negative effects on ability grouping based on educational excellence and equity.  
The social labelling and teacherb s attitude and expectation from high-track students create a sense of  
inferiority in the low-track classes as they feel downgraded.  
The students in low-track classes lose the chance to learn from their stronger peers.  
It is almost impossible for those low-track students to be b upgradedb  to a higher track because they  
become less competitive.  
The gap between the two groups becomes unbridgeable.  
Two types of groups can be formed: between-class ability groups and within-class ability groups. Between-  
class ability grouping seeks to minimize student heterogeneity by assigning students to classes on the basis  
of entry level test scores. This type of grouping enables the teachers to instruct according to studentsb  level of  
Practically, this cannot be implemented in Mumbai colleges as the choice of subjects is the basis for forming  
groups b divisions  
Thus, what a teacher usually has is essentially a heterogeneous class- a fractured classroom, with bored and  
indifferent learners located at various levels of competence. They, are motivated differently, may suffer from  
complexes, and tend to create discipline problems on occasion.  
The other solution is a small-scale within-class grouping. Within a classroom, the teacher tries to group  
students on the basis of studentsb  ability and the learning tasks. Differentiated materials and instruction are  
offered to different groups or individuals. Effective teachers can decrease the problems that exist in an extremely  
heterogeneous class by combining the advantages of both approaches through varied teaching methodologies  
and strategies.  
Giving special attention and help to lower-ability students  
Using differentiated material, assignments and grading criteria  
Using peer tutoring involving advanced learners  
Monitoring and providing personalised feedback to all students.  
The teacher has to select b from the existing mosaic of ideas, materials and activities now available, while  
remaining realistic about what can be achieved in difficult circumstances, without adequate equipment or  
spaceb  (Prodromou, 1992, p. 11).  
Defining a Mixed Ability- Multi Level Classroom in suburban Mumbai  
A Mixed Ability- Multi Level Classroom generally is a class with a variety of students. Ideally, it should be an  
inclusiveb  class, and offer everyone in it an appropriate challenge to help them progress on their own terms,  
within the bureaucracy of education b  time-table, syllabus completion, exams, tests etc.  
Additionally, such a class should have the following advantages:  
There should be a sense of discipline and shared purpose in the class.  
Both linguistic and non-linguistic skills should be valued so all contribute willingly.  
All work independently as there are a range of achievable objectives.  
Every student is motivated as individual contribution to the class is acknowledged.  
Opportunities for regular assessment against a personal standard should exist  
The Vaze College Teaching Experiment  
In this paper, I will present a case study of inclusive teaching in a mixed- ability, multi- level class based on a  
small try-out conducted in my regular first year class. It adapts insights from contemporary research on grouping  
of students cited above and uses a variety of teaching methods in a structured manner to make learning  
cooperative, active, interesting and effective as also increasingly independent with students realizing their  
responsibility to learn in the existing scenario. (Hess, 2001)  
The existing syllabus and examination pattern:  
The class where the experiment was carried out is the first year B.A. Compulsory English class. The CLL b   
based syllabus aims to achieve the following: b To equip studentsb &.. with the higher skills of (1) close, critical  
reading of informative, discursive and literary text, (2) effective presentation in writing ( concise statement, use  
of appropriate organizational and rhetorical patterns, and style) and (3)efficient oral communicationb &b .( Syllabus,  
Teaching material usually consists of comprehension passages, summarizing exercises and writing activity .  
Basic phonology is also taught. No specific textbook is prescribed. The examination paper is an unseen one,  
and closely resembles the teaching material.  
Group overview  
The group comprised about a 100 students, (male and female), of which, about 80 to 85 might be described  
as hard core and the rest as floaters whose attendance was generally erratic.  
The students are from a variety of educational backgrounds b  Marathi, Hindi, Gujarati, Urdu and English. They  
have one English class everyday for three days in the week, and one tutorial class per group per week. While  
the teacher has no say in the composition of the regular class; s/he can distribute them in a manner that she  
chooses for the tutorial class since that grouping takes place at the department level. The students exhibit a  
wide range of English language ability. A study of their admission forms shows that their marks at the previous  
exam ( H S C or equivalents such as C B S E , or I S C ) range from about 45 to 95 out of 100. Further, the levels  
of English in these boards vary from A level in I S C, where English is the medium of instruction and English  
literature is a compulsory subject with a Shakespearean play as a prescribed text; to a very basic level in H S  
C- lower level where English is taught as a third language, very often in translation in the mother tongue.  
Coming from such diverse comfort levels in English, their motivation and interest in the subject is varied; hence,  
their commitment in the class is also questionable. In fact, most of the students study this course in English for  
the last time in their educational career, as they would have taken several other subjects like Political Science,  
Sociology, Psychology, History etc., or even Hindi or Marathi literature as their major subjects. Their interest  
is thus very low. They are doing this course as they have no choice. It is difficult to define their long-term needs  
because many are not even interested in academics. Clearly, it is a bleak situation for all concerned.  
Methodological evolution  
Initially, writing ability was taught in the traditional teacher-fronted format. However, it was quite unsuccessful-  
as the better students dominated the show and the weaker ones kept marking time till the bell rang to signal  
the end of the class. They neither participated, nor did they write anything substantial. Very often they would  
just not come to class at all. It was frustrating and going to the class was on its way to becoming a nightmare.  
Eventually, after some b cognitive restructuringb  ( McCoy,1979, p.187) a modification in the teaching format  
was welcomed by a majority; leading to the experiment detailed below.  
The Experimental Method  
Multiple techniques adapted within the given framework of the large heterogeneous class- Group work,  
Homework, Project, Peer-Mentoring, Remedial Teaching.  
At first, through informal discussion, the students formed groups of 7-8 each.  
Group work is a typical form of cooperative learning in which all group members actively depend on and help  
one another. They observe and learn from their peers the different perspectives and approaches to cognition of  
learning. When implementing group work in a mixed ability class, the teacher focuses on and monitors the  
individual accountability in order to make sure everyone in the group contributes almost the equal portion of  
effort to the assigned learning task. It is essential to inform students that dominance and hitch-hike are  
absolutely undesired. To ensure that learning takes place, each member in the group should actively participate  
in the discussion and work to completing the learning task.  
The students were encouraged to form their own groups, so naturally friends were eager to get together. This  
established a comfort level for working. Friends also cooperated with each other, unconditionally, thereby  
allowing for learning to take place smoothly. The knowledge, experience and enthusiasm that they possess,  
coupled with the encouragement and assistance that they receive from the other class members, tends to  
connect the group rather than fragment it.  
Each group was given a topic, on which they worked. The topics were of contemporary interest and relevance.  
It was assumed that familiarity of topics would allow students to contribute fruitfully. They were given about 20  
minutes to discuss and write down the main points, in the presence of the teacher facilitator. Some of the  
topics discussed in the course of the year were b  Commonwealth Games, Cricket, Newspapers, College  
Festivals, Pollution etc.  
The discussion among students was deliberately not closely monitored, hence, it is possible that discussions  
were not always in English. Any strategy that enables the whole class to work together is useful . . . The use of  
the mother tongue may be an advantage, not a distraction, if it involves all students in the lesson, avoids  
frustrating misunderstandings, and encourages collaboration.  
( Hemingway, 1986 p. 22) The use of  
another language, however, consolidated group activity and ensured everyoneb s participation. Each group  
designated a student as the spokesperson and s/he made a note of the major points that would be covered by  
them on the given topic. At the end of the time allotted, the spokespersons were asked to read out and  
another wrote the points on the board. Discussions regarding arrangement of ideas, addition of points were  
encouraged in which the whole class participated.  
Contrary to popular belief, the weaker students ( generally with language handicap) too presented their analytical  
ideas b  showing that it was not that they were intellectually handicapped but linguistically so. This, in a  
manner, justified the tacit permission to use L1.  
Homework : The purpose of homework should be to consolidate class work. To this end, giving weaker  
students less demanding and need based tasks and assigning more challenging activities to the stronger  
students can help motivate both and consolidate their individual learning. Assigning more challenging tasks to  
the stronger students in the group ensures that they remain motivated and continue to make progress. In this  
class, homework is considered essential for a writing activity, as the lecture duration is hardly ever enough for  
a student to handle an activity from start to finish. Each student had to write the essay and bring it to class the  
next day. Experience showed that at least 80% of students did so, at least in parts if not completely.  
In the following class, each group was given a chart paper and asked to put down the major points in the essay  
and add relevant illustrations. This brought out the multiple intelligences in the class- artists, leaders, presenters-  
making the class interesting as well as inclusive.  
Once, the charts were complete, guided peer mentoring was initiated. Peer mentoring is a method where high  
achievers process their knowledge cognitively and peer- teach their friends and/ or low achievers. Theoretically,  
the student mentor benefits from peer teaching as much as lower achievers who receive peer instruction. For  
instance, high achievers need to process cognitively , organize and evaluate what they have learned before  
they can b mentorb  the low achievers. This helps them build up their own expert system in constructing new  
schemata. Socially, they can win popularity and friendship from peers, along with bonus from teachers. Low  
achievers often learn faster when they are taught by a peer. Further, b fossilizationb  may be avoided when the  
class is carefully monitored and corrections are appropriately made. b Authenticity is in the eye of the participantsb   
Prodromou, 1996, p. 372), and as long as the teacher is not continually interrupting them in an obsessive  
pursuit of accuracy (errorphobia), their L2 speech is interpreted by the other students as being at best b authenticb   
and at least, an exposure to Comprehensible Input (CI) (Krashen, 1982), a necessary requirement in achieving  
communicative competence, (Hymes, 1971). Thus, peer teaching is a win-win policy, especially when these  
stronger learners finish the assignment earlier and begin to become restless and bored in the class.  
In this activity, the more able students would lead and encourage others to follow. Suggested improvements  
could be in the form of additional points, grammatical corrections etc. Here, too the teacherb s role was that of  
the active facilitator. Students/ Groups with superior language competence would be guided to better their  
organisation and sign post ideas effectively; whereas the weaker ones would be trained to identify and correct  
grammatical errors in initial stages before progressing towards rhetorical organization.  
Again, the exchanges obviously did not take place entirely in English. Either L1 or the more frequently used  
Hindi was used but since the focus of the exercise was not spoken competence, this was largely ignored but  
the teacher pointed out from time to time that it was advisable to speak in English. The completed charts were  
presented in class, the following day.  
The class was encouraged to ask questions, though, initially, such a thing happened very rarely. At first,  
students with better language competence dominated the presentations, but gradually over the year, other  
learners too started to join in, initially though, rather tentatively.  
Meanwhile, the teacher assessed the essays and noted the errors made by different students during their  
presentation. This was with a view to the next step b  remedial teaching.  
Remedial work such as providing extra time, customised, and if required extra, home-work, differentiated  
worksheets with explanations, personalized tutorial activities etc. can help slow students and avoid overt  
segregation and slowing down of pace in the regular class. Remedial work can be done in several ways. One  
of them is to recycle materials by practicing different aspects of it (Prodromou, 1992). A chance to understand  
the different aspects of the material will help students to better understand the whole material.  
These four activities was followed by need based remedial tutorial sessions that arose from the performance of  
the various groups. All language errors were taken up and focussed teaching from an application perspective  
was done. For instance, one of the most common errors seen is the correct use of tense. Experience, however,  
shows that the students from non-English medium schools who make these errors are however, extremely  
proficient in the rules of tense formation. Hence, instead of focussing on rules , focus was on the use of  
appropriate tense in English, including sequencing of tenses.  
This was followed by exercises in which paragraphs were rewritten in different time frames. Students had to  
write a paragraph on a recent event in college b  Blood Donation drive. First, they reported it ( in past time),  
then re-wrote it as an activity that is going on (in present time) and finally as a motivational piece for future (  
future tense). Worksheets of varying levels were distributed and they were encouraged to solve it in groups with  
the teacher as a facilitator and also as part of homework.  
Similarly focussed teaching was done for spelling and vocabulary improvement and rhetorical patterning as  
Abler students were encouraged to use words connotatively, or select words based on constraints imposed by  
register. They were taught to write, state their thesis and expand it through different organizational patterns  
such as exemplification, analogy, reason-consequence, using anecdotes, statistics etc.  
These activities were done repeatedly throughout the year.  
Student Feedback  
A questionnaire was distributed for feedback. The students were unanimous in their preference for this type of  
class over the more traditional teacher-fronted lesson, saying that they considered it to be b a very positive  
thingb  . The lower level students were b inspiredb  by observing their more able peer tutors and the higher level  
students were experiencing, b a level of responsibility in the class...we must try to be good models b  , and more  
importantly, b  we are not ignored or taught what we already knowb  b we do not get boredb . The lower level  
students also got b coverb  in the groups, so they could speak unhesitatingly; this enhanced their confidence. In  
groups, they could clarify their doubts from both friends and teacher without having to b speak up in front of the  
classb .  
Initially, some lower level students were intimidated by the more vocal higher level learners, but later realized  
that they were also capable and could reach an enhanced level of comfort in English with effort in time.  
To sum up, a majority of the students liked this approach to teaching. Their reason- in such classes they are  
active participants.  
It has been thus possible to use strategies involving the group as a whole, and not focus unduly on any  
particular group and yet achieve results. Whereas some students may have achieved a b Threshold level of  
competenceb  in writing, their positive effect as role models within the group went a long way in motivating the  
other members to seek to overcome their own limitations.  
A possible problem that has to be guarded against is that the peer teachers do not pass on errors in groups.  
Alert monitoring and immediate rectification can help. However, care should also be taken not to develop an  
errorophobiab - and obsessively sanitize texts free of errors at the cost of fluency and confidence.  
In recent times, there has been a move towards mixed ability grouping in the west. Grouping arrangements are  
needed that enable pupils of all abilities to make maximum progress without increasing alienation. In Mumbai,  
by default, all classes are mixed ability classes. The reason why English classes pose maximum problems is  
that it is both the medium of instruction as well as the expected outcome.  
When choices are nonexistent, it is important to make the best use of what is readily accessible in order to  
utilize the full classroom potential.  
Limitations and Further Directions  
This paper is a first sample study in a regular teaching situation and its findings need corroboration  
through further study.  
Definitive conclusions can be reached after studying the effects of all variables such as class size,  
composition, situation and the balance of abilities.  
Examination results need to be analysed both before and after teaching for clear evidence of increased  
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