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My experience: Working with heterogeneous classes through active methodologies

I have been an English teacher for 12 years and have always tried to use active methodologies because they make the class more dynamic and interesting.

One of the strategies I use is the inverted classroom. I pass a material for students to prepare at home and then, in the classroom, we do an activity. For example, for a given dynamic, I selected some texts in English on current issues to discuss, such as machismo and the culture of rape. I formed groups, each group was left with a text, and the students passed by other groups to tell about what they read and also about what they heard in the previous group where they were. The intention was that everyone would be circulating and sharing the debate.

In another activity, I used staging to work on the vocabulary related to clothing, which is quite extensive. I asked them to pair up and go to the school library to search for the visual dictionary. Each pair researched five pieces to do a speaking activity in the classroom, in which they pretended to be traders and sold those clothes. They created a small dialogue to present to the class. In this activity, I sometimes ask a third student, chosen at random, to interact with the pair.

In the pandemic, remote classes also made it possible to work with these practises. It is possible to use several digital resources, such as forums for them to interact through writing and online games. An interesting tool is ChatClass (https://www.olimpiadadeingles.com), the official platform of the English Olympics, which provides activities through WhatsApp to train speech, writing, reading, and comprehension.

Importance and advantages

When the student attends an expository class, in general, in the first five or six minutes, he is very attentive. After that period, he starts to get distracted and shift his focus. When using an activity that involves active methodologies, the student is much more committed to what he is doing, as he feels he is an active part of the class and his learning. He also realises that he does not need to memorise to learn a language, as this occurs dynamically, as communication itself does.

Another important point is the possibility of working with heterogeneous classes. In my class, for example, about 40% of the students have an intermediate level, some have an advanced level and some arrive without any basis. So, you can be more demanding with a few, make adaptations for others and allow everyone to participate. There is a time when everything is together, but I always try to do activities in groups and pairs. A class of mine is several classes happening at the same time.

There is also the possibility to work with different skills and learning profiles. Some students learn more in the concrete, others like to talk more, others prefer to read.

Challenges

One of the main challenges in using active methodologies is the teacher himself knowing about them,knowing what these methodologies are, how they work, and in what contexts they can be applied. I myself became aware of that term [active methodologies] very recently. My masters and doctorate field was literature, not applied linguistics for teaching English. So, I always used these approaches and practises, but I didn’t know the term.

Another challenge is the question of the physical structure of schools and the availability of the teacher. To do certain activities, you need to have the tools and time to prepare them. I work at a privileged institute, but I know that this is not the reality of many schools in Brazil. But, on the other hand, it takes courage to dare. Sometimes, we don’t need a fancy resource to take a class. With paper and pen, you can create an activity that uses active methodologies.

Tips

I think that personal motivation counts a lot. The teacher has to be dissatisfied with what he sees out there. From that, he must try to train himself in some way. It does not necessarily have to be formal training. It can happen with co-workers themselves, who share experiences. It is important to realise that there are different ways to teach English.