Meeting the needs of diverse learners

Meeting the needs of diverse learners

A worrying trend among school managements is that of allotting an increasingly large number of students to every classroom. Though there are legally prescribed classroom sizes according to the number of students, there is no authority looking into this matter. Schools are converting every possible space into a classroom and if you ask a teacher how many children are in the class, the number will most likely be around 50.

The more pertinent question is would you prefer small classrooms with inexperienced teachers or large classrooms with experienced teachers, since the reality today is shortage of teachers? There are two sides to any coin. Research shows that smaller classes do improve student achievement. But a close analysis of the data shows that other factors play a role as well. Children in lower grades benefit from small classes but not those in higher grades. Furthermore, the benefits are more when the children are of a mixed background in terms of language or ability. Teacher experience counts. An experienced teacher can efficiently handle a large class without student achievement going down. Parental involvement too is an important factor in contributing to the child's performance.

There are a few schools who retain a fixed number in each class, usually around 45 students. They remain much sought after as their student achievement is high. With larger classes, teachers and students face many challenges. Let's take a look at some of them and how they can be overcome.  

Noise level
The biggest interference in the learning process is caused by noise. Children and teachers agree that noise, both external and internal, can cause distraction. Often, children finish at different paces and those who finish early, begin chatting. Sometimes, a teacher's voice is not commanding enough to establish silence. Most often, this is difficult because the number is so large that only parts of the class are controllable at any given point in time. So, the teachers have to encourage students to develop good classroom behaviour by explaining the dos and don'ts like 'don't speak while your teacher is talking'.

Here are some tips that can help teachers:

* Ask students to suggest ways to keep the noise level down.

* Collectively agree on rules.

* Display the rules on the classroom walls.

* Create visual and auditory signals for silence like putting on an additional light to indicate the start of something important or ring a little bell or timer before important instructions are given. Over a period of time, children will definitely get accustomed to both.


* Voice modulation and its effects are well known. It is almost impossible to control a large class until the teacher 
acquires efficient voice modulation to communicate silence, reproach, encouragement, appreciation and warning. Most classrooms though large are acceptably quiet because of the experienced teacher's ability to use voice and facial expression to establish discipline.


* Parents can teach their child self-study skills like reading the notes once it is written till the others finish, underlining the important aspects as the teacher teaches, etc.

* Some children get bothered by noise that may occur inside or outside the classroom. Such children should be taught to focus on visual tasks so that they can tune out the impact of auditory stimulation. They can be given a supply of visual tasks like crossword, quiz or even detailed drawing and colouring to be done after their allotted work is complete.

* Identify the kids who are quiet and those who are boisterous. Pair a silent child with a talkative one, hopefully a balance will emerge.

* Group work often reduces restlessness as does standing up and doing a few stretches.

Mixed abilities
Parents and teachers are concerned about the varying abilities of children within a large classroom. Is there anything that can be done to address this situation? Everyone has to accept the fact that differential teaching is here to stay. The 'one method to teach all' philosophy no longer works. With mobility and migration, the classroom of today contains people of varied backgrounds, languages, cultures, physical and intellectual abilities.

All children don't grasp the same content in the same way. Differentiated teaching means teaching the same content in different ways and at different levels so that all students can benefit. So, for a given lesson, the children should, at the lowest level, be able to complete the simplest exercises like objective questions. While some children may be able to go a level higher, and write questions and answers, children of the highest ability will be able to summarise or give an opinion.

Teaching may include visual, auditory and activity-based methods so that all children can absorb the lessons learnt the way they prefer. Research shows that differentiated instruction is highly effective and there are fewer discipline problems since children are occupied in their preferred learning mode.

Differential teaching takes time, and preparing a lesson plan is essential. Nowadays, more schools have learning support teams and resource rooms to help teachers understand their students, modify the expectations of outcome, create alternative methods of testing, modify the curriculum etc. Hence, the need of the hour is to assist teachers in adopting an approach of flexibility in teaching, testing, behaviour management and counselling.

Much depends on the personality of the child as well. A timid child in a big classroom will either get lost in it or get noticed by an experienced teacher who will encourage talents to bloom. Timid, nervous children will be better off in a smaller environment till their self-confidence builds up. They should be motivated towards academic achievement. An outgoing child will survive anywhere as his or her personality will stand out.

Whatever be the personality, it is up to the teacher to understand the child and how to direct the child appropriately. Age affects personality. As children grow, they also outgrow their nervousness. A teacher's personality too contributes to the overall climate of the classroom.

In conclusion, though class size is gaining attention, we should remember that all factors together contribute to the well being of the child. Every classroom situation has its gains as well as limitations, we need teachers as well as children to adjust, understand, communicate, appreciate and persevere.

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