January 21, 2015 by gemmalunn
I currently teach EAP to two classes, one of which is a lower level, or at least low in terms of the material and the level which this is aimed at. We have to follow the syllabus and use the materials (which I must add I actually like a lot and are very useful) as all students taking the course must cover the same material as they all sit the same exams. Some of these students will need to gain 70% in the final exams to enter their chosen university path. This is no mean feat, even for the stronger students on the course.
Thus, the problem I have is that most of the material is a bit too difficult for some students and totally incomprehensible for others. Yet I cannot skip it or replace it, I can sometimes supplement it but only if I have time that week once we have covered the core materials. I am frequently met with blank stares after explaining a term or asking a question or silence after setting an activity. I am grateful for the stronger students who have the confidence to attempt the task or a response. However, more often than not it is just these few who respond. These lessons require more energy than others because of the massive gap I’m trying to bridge plus as the weeks go on I feel like this gap decreases some students’ interest and motivation so I also have to try and keep these up. As a result, I feel like some students often leave the classes a bit confused, demotivated and not having learned a great deal or at least as much as they should have.
The main cause of this problem is that the input is not comprehensible. Thus, according to Krashen (1985) the material would not follow his Input Hypothesis of i+1 (i=learner’s current knowledge i+1= the next stage), it’s more like i+4! Long (1985) states that the best way to make input comprehensible is through ‘interactional adjustments’ i.e. through attempts by the learners and their peers to overcome comprehension difficulties by negotiating meaning. However, this is sometimes just too big a hurdle. My friends and I could sit looking at a passage in Arabic for years and never negotiate the meaning! I think that some of the material is just far too incomprehensible for the meaning to be negotiated. As you can imagine these classes can sometimes be a bit of a struggle, either I or the students or both feel frustrated at some point, this frustration can sometimes be wrongly diverted, i.e. I get frustrated with them for not understanding me and of course feel awful for this afterwards as obviously no one is too blame!
I covered a class yesterday which is a few levels above my usual class and the difference was immense. This was the level the material is aimed at and as a result it was effective and thus a much more enjoyable lesson for all. Most importantly, learning took place how it should: students successfully negotiated the meaning of new words and phrases; they tried using these when appropriate; they discussed issues in the activities with confidence yet with room for improvement; they enjoyed the lesson and it was not too great effort for either me or them and I think they left happy and with a sense of achievement. This class just reaffirmed my feelings that it is the material which is the issue rather than me or the students.
There are a few strategies I’ve implemented to try and bridge the gap and make the incomprehensible more comprehensible, the main ones are:
- Asking students to read ahead, they have all the materials for the whole term so I’ve suggested they look at the upcoming week and translate and note down any difficult words. I also advised them to read texts and make notes / headings for each paragraph.
- In the first class of the week I give students a table of new vocabulary which they will come across in the upcoming week and they spend some time completing parts of the table in pairs then explaining their words to others.
- Asking students to write down answers to discussion questions before asking them to share them (Fanselow, 1987). I now avoid direct class questions as I am more often than not met with silence or by responses from the same three students which does not benefit the rest of the class.
- Similarly to the above, I get students to make notes before a speaking activity so they have had time to prepare their thoughts and suitable language. I’ve noticed this massively helps the less confident students and also gives the stronger students the opportunity to use more sophisticated language. It also allows me to correct common errors and deal with any misunderstanding before students begin the activity.
So far these strategies are helping. However, if anyone is in or has been in a similar situation and has any more advice it would be greatly welcomed, thanks.
Faneslow, J. F. (1987). Breaking Rules. New York & London: Longman.
Krashen, S. D. (1985). The Input Hypothesis. New York & London: Longman.
Long, M. H. (1985). Input and second language acquisition theory. In S. Gass, & C. Maddem (eds.) Input and Second Language Acquisition. Rowley, MA: Newbury House. Pp. 268-86.
Shortly after posting this I found this quote…..
“You can’t make the incomprehensible comprehensible without losing it completely.” Max Frisch