Tamas Lorincz

Strategies for large classes – Tamas Lorincz

The more the better

I believe the problems relating to large classes and mixed ability groups belong in the same category where ELT discourse is concerned. In the early days of the communicative approach, these were presented as major teaching challenges. This, in my view, is because these problems have been dealt with from a teacher-centred classroom approach, where the teacher has a hard time dealing with too many kids, or those who are very different.

I very strongly believe that every class of more than one student is mixed ability and large. It’s not the number or the difference between children that determines the challenge, but what the teacher wants to achieve. If you just deliver (favourite word: impart) material, it does not really matter if you do it for 5 people or 500. If, on the other hand, you aim at giving every single student in your class at least one meaningful moment they take away with them, even two students per class might be a tall order.

I believe that the “problem” with mixed ability and large classes ceases to exist the minute you stop looking for what you can teach to every single student, and instead start looking at ways of turning your classroom into a workshop where every student of any ability has a role.

I know this sounds far too simple and unrealistic to many teachers struggling day-to-day with thirty, forty or more students, but I strongly believe that the minute we relinquish our determination to teach our students and decide to create an environment where students learn from processes taking place in the classroom, acquire the skills of integrating into a group and defining and representing their niche (what they’ve got to offer to that particular group), the size of the class becomes an advantage.

This also allows teachers to become part of the learning process — which in turn makes their work much more fun and meaningful as well.

If the material is not a grammar structure but instead is a challenge, a project, or a task students have to complete by negotiation, discussion,  and collaboration, then even super large classes can become learning communities.

If the teacher does not deliver material but coordinates and facilitates the work done in and by groups, learning won’t depend on how many of the students the teacher can reach the ears of.

If technology is used appropriately to complete tasks, information will not exclusively derive from the teacher, and students learn independence and self-reliance.

If different forms of classroom arrangement and working solutions are applied, students will learn the immensely important skills of self-representation, negotiation and being part of a team.

All of these are essential skills to be successful not only in learning a foreign language but also in integrating into the world of work.

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Tamas

Tamas is an English teacher from Hungary who has just completed his MA in TESOL. Thus finishing his formal learning for the time being, he will be able to focus on what he is really interested in: informal learning, and gaining a better understanding of teaching by becoming a self-directed learner. Tamas at the moment works for a language testing agency in Hungary, and he concentrates on developing community platforms for language learning and practice. Tamas' blog: A journey into learning

8 thoughts on “Strategies for large classes – Tamas Lorincz”

  1. I really like your suggestion, Tamas! Sometimes the “problem” might depend on the view we have of it. Change our perspective, and the problem changes as well.

    It’s a bit of mental gymnastics, isn’t it? I love the idea of thinking of large classes in terms of their potential as learning communities rather than as an obstacle to learning.

    Thanks for making me think :)

  2. I’m so much in favour of turning a classroom into a workshop, where every student has a role to play in group work, and a teacher becomes part of learning as well.

    Thank you, Tamas!
    You always have an interesting perspective.

    Ann

  3. Hi Tamas,

    I wouldn’t agree more with what you’re saying. The problem with large classes does stem from a teacher-centred perspective where the teacher dominates everything going on in the classroom and where the students are considered to be empty vessels waiting to be filled. While I wouldn’t easily say that monitoring large groups is an easy task, I totally agree that learning doesn’t depend on class size. I’ve had classes of 30 students who worked wonderfully together and classes of 14 or less students who were very difficult to handle simply because the group dynamics were very poor.

    Thanks for the inspiring post

    Sophia

  4. Dear Tamas,

    I thank you for sharing your great ideas on the issue and helping us see different perspectives to the issue.

    I have recently experienced the difference caused by the different seating arrangements of classes. Despite all my efforts to use different group work activities in my classes, outcome was not as good as I expected. However I tried a new classroom arrangement, and it worked quite well. In spite of having my students facing me in a semi circle and having groups of three, I arranged the seats to have groups of three chairs all around in the class for a group activity.So, students felt they were a team and not entirely bounded to the teacher. We could use the entire class and I was not the focus in the class but less visible. This helped my students be more focused on the task and tought me some small changes can make big differences.

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