I visited an English class day before yesterday, as an observer, at my own request, and the teachers are more than willing to have me attend. I wanted to see what some of the Best Practices are, as well as the challenges, and I certainly saw both.
Best practices: the teacher, a lively and skilled young Mongolian woman who got her masters in the UK, had them in small groups, working in pairs, moving briskly through the book, also from the UK and very thorough. There is a lot of material on a page – on different grammar structures, etc. and so a 90 minute class might easily spend the whole period on a single page of the book. There are CDs to go with each item, and she plays them first.
The day I visited, students were listening to 5 passages, by British adults, about what the most important thing was in their lives, and then matching those passages with short written summaries. The book provides one extra choice so it doesn’t get too obvious by the fifth. After that, they took turns as a whole class answering what was most important to them. Then they wrote one sentence summaries of the passages, which they heard a second time. Next, they listened a third time while (“whilst”) reading the transcripts at the back of the book, and finally repeated the transcript sentence by sentence, rotating in their small groups. It assured each student a chance to listen, speak, read and write in one period – pretty nice. Still, it’s hard to feel the urgency to use what they know in a setting in which everyone around them can speak their language!
Challenges: It seems this is a required class to get to the next level, so there is a huge range of proficiency levels. Notably, there were 4 students from Inner Mongolia (China) studying there, complete beginners, alongside some students who had lived in the States for several years and returned for university. So – differentiation is a real problem!! I had some tips to offer, such as having assessments that were customized to their levels, but probably the change needs to be at a structural level – maybe creating two levels where there is now one? Anyway, the English department is aware of this and working on it — and it’s not unique to Mongolia!
So, what did students say was most important to them? Their families, their country, their health, their education, their religion (in one case), and their friends. I was asked, and I said probably it was my mind, because without it, I couldn’t perceive or enjoy any of the other things. The students asked me many questions, some difficult to answer, such as “What is the difference between American students and Mongolian students?” but I did my best to say some interesting stuff. What do you think I answered to that question? :~>
By the way, a dramatic difference between Mongolian students and US students is that they are not glued to their smartphones (although they do have them, and they have internet and cellphone coverage even in the countryside!). Just for fun, I decided to count how many students outside the building were using smart phones, and I had reached 30 “no’s” before I saw two guys on a bench using their phones. Students are talking and laughing, very sociable, living in the hear and now. It was refreshing to see!