“Exam’s coming and we’re behind schedule, so I propose to skip these pages of the last chapter. My students are smart enough to learn by themselves later.”
“Students in my class are very weak and they won’t be able to do this task. Shall we cancel it?”
“This e-learning tool is too complicated for my students. Why don’t we use pen and paper instead?”
Idealistically, we teachers hope to maximise students’ learning effectiveness through careful instructional planning. However, when we are in a real classroom, having the mindset of “I know my students CAN’T do it”, we have the tendency to eliminate, or even remove, the learning obstacles for students, and ultimately students can never learn something they should have learnt.
Making the right decisions for students along the learning journey is essential to students’ development of growth mindset and self-directed learning. This can be achieved through teachers’ autonomy in the planning and implementation of the learning activities and decisions made during the learning and teaching process, which allows teachers to reflect on their own teaching process, select suitable teaching methods, content and materials according to students’ needs and abilities.
In a co-planning meeting among a group of Primary 4 English teachers in my previous serving school, instead of designing a uniform lesson plan, we decided to make adaptations for individual classes according to student needs and abilities, with something in common:
Target language - key vocabulary items and sentence patterns text-type for writing
Core reading materials
Core writing task
Minimum and maximum teaching time
Key pedagogical approaches - reciprocal teaching, e-learning and self-directed learning
Here are the proposed adaptations:
For capable students
Selecting the right learning tasks and making good use of lesson time is important. Instead of going through grammar and vocabulary items, this lesson will serve as a lead-in for students to enhance their language awareness, practise thinking skills and self-reflection with the aid of reading materials and e-learning tools. They will be given opportunities to express and exchange ideas among themselves. The SMART model will be used to guide students to develop and evaluate their ideas.
Moreover, idiomatic meaning of “good egg” and “bad seed” will be introduced for students to understand non-literal language that goes beyond the dictionary meaning of the words or phrases. It will widen students’ exposure to the world of English language.
For average students
As students need more support on vocabulary building, there will be more scaffolding, i.e. guiding students to learn from words to sentences, from sentences to paragraphs, and ultimately from paragraphs to a passage. Adequate time will be allowed for students to jot down what they have learnt after each activity. Students will also be asked to keep a personal notebook to monitor and evaluate their own learning progress.
For students who need more assistance
Nearpod will be used to illustrate the reading process, from clarifying to predicting, to provide more visual stimulation to students. While e-learning tools may bring lots of advantages, digital incompetence may also hinder students’ learning. So instead of using the e-learning tools, Padlet, to key in words, students will be allowed to use paper and pen to write the self-reflection and complete the post-reading tasks. Teachers could give immediate assistance and guidance to students on the spot.
The above is a snapshot of the professional dialogue at the co-planning meeting. It was an inspiring experience for every participant in the meeting because flexibility is allowed for teachers to make appropriate choices to cater for students’ diverse needs. Peer lesson observation was followed, and we selected some students for focus group interviews, to find out:
● What are the advantages and limitations of e-learning?
● What support do students need when learning a language?
● How can we help students learn better in a 30-minute lesson?
● Are students ready and willing to learn more about the topic? Why or why not?
Glad that I had a chance to conduct the lesson observation and chat with the students. By knowing students’ performance and feedback, we eventually know if the teachers have made the right decisions for their own classes. In short, to make right decision for students, we must keep the mindset of “I know my students CAN do it”.
Chris has devoted himself as an education practitioner since the graduation from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. He then obtained the PGDE (Primary) in English language teaching and the master’s degree in school management and leadership. Working at a local primary school over the years, he actively participates in curriculum development and teachers’ professional development focusing on “Making Learning Visible”.
He is currently the Principal of Jordan Valley St. Joseph’s Catholic Primary School.