Turning Obstacles to Opportunities in a State Primary School Classroom
Foreign language teaching in Greek state schools has been a debatable issue for many decades. While foreign language education in Greece has been largely associated with private language institutions, state schools persist in providing students with the (mandatory) opportunity to study English as a first foreign language, as well as a second foreign language, usually French or German.
However, the context in which languages are taught in state schools, more often than not, is not enviable. Teachers are faced with a rather long list of challenges and are expected to cope with them relying on their own means or a limited support system. Such challenges include: large groups of students, often as many as 25 in one classroom; diversity in the student population with students differing in many aspects; increasing numbers of students with special needs; students with behaviour problems that make classroom management even more difficult; centrally designed syllabi and textbooks; environmental restrictions; lack of/insufficient technological support; insufficient in-service teacher training; lack of motivation; and bias against teachers and the whole system.
Of course, some of the above challenges are seen as daunting obstacles by most teachers, who would be much happier without them. Having said that, the purpose of this presentation is to highlight the efforts of teachers to turn these obstacles into opportunities for their students, explore ways of how this can be done and emphasize the need for unbiased collaboration of all the agents of foreign language education.
How can a teacher effectively run a class of a large number of students who also comprise a very diverse group? Easier said than done, the problem becomes even more challenging when the teacher’s task is to teach a foreign language. However, since this is normally the case in state school classrooms, the teacher has to come up with techniques and activities that will ensure learning for all, according to their specific individual characteristics.
One such activity, namely “jigsaw”, will be implemented in this follow-up session. The (assumed) students will be asked to explore material from the official textbook used in the 6th class of primary school, breaking it down to smaller units and engaging in reciprocal teaching so that learning is secured for every one of them.
Flexible grouping will set the stage for the implementation of the jigsaw activity. Students will form diverse groups with members differing in their abilities, level of knowledge and readiness for new learning. Peer-assisted learning will produce groups of “experts” regardless of the students’individual abilities so that everyone can participate in the knowledge contest designed by the groups at the end of the session. Ultimately, activities of this kind are expected to enhance collaboration skills and foster strong bonds among students.
Agapi Dendaki has studied English Literature (B.A.), Special Education (M.Ed.) and Counselling (M.Ed.). She has had many years of experience in teaching English in both the private and the public sector, most of them in state primary schools. She has also designed and run career development seminars and programmes for teachers and Special Education professionals.