Grading language, how to find the right balance? | TEFL Jobs London

Grading language, how to find the right balance?

by Donna Hutchinson
London based TEFL Teacher, @donnatamara

I have recently moved levels; from high upper intermediate (basically pre-advanced) to high intermediate (just a touch above intermediate). I was nervous about this move because I’d become so used to my high upper ints where I rarely had to grade my language, and was only conscious of it when explaining new vocabulary. More than that though, I was used to not having to explain a task in too much detail, “take a look at exercise one” would generally suffice. Doing the first question as an example wasn’t always necessary and if there were any problems, they would quickly let me know.

Moving down to a lower level, I was conscious of the changes. I wouldn’t be able to stack my instructions quite so much and I probably would have to do the first task as an example together as a class. I was also aware that I may have to speak slower, enunciate a little more and be more conscious of those pesky phrasal verbs. All of these I was aware of but the problem lies in how far to take it. Grade too much and I come off patronising but don’t grade enough and I’m a bad teacher. It’s a tricky one, I tell you.

Making the lesson challenging

Another spanner thrown into the works is that if the pace of the lesson isn’t challenging enough, it can mean that students may think that they are better than they are. Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I want to batter down my students and make them feel bad but it is never that useful to have an elevated sense of ability when there is ample room for improvement. In this situation, which I have experienced before, I just make the lessons a little harder to emphasise that there is always more to learn (even for me!). However with this new class I have experienced something totally new.

With students starting to become complacent, I decided to up the ante and make the tasks a little harder and stopped spoon-feeding as much language. This usually does the trick and usually means that I am more equipped to gauge the class consensus because when it gets too hard, the students will say something, longing for the easier tasks of old at which point I am able to find a happy medium. I implemented my tried and tested technique and made the class more tasking but, the students, confronted with something too challenging quietly decided to fold, like robots powering down. I was at a loss!

Throughout the week I have swung between two extremes, unable to find a middle ground. I don’t like to grade my lessons so much that they’re not challenging enough but I don’t want to surpass any language because in my humble opinion, at this stage (or any stage?), nothing is too easy to ignore. I’ve got a few ideas in the mix and I’ll be trying them out next week. Hopefully I’ll find that fabled middle ground.


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