Thursday, 16 February 2012

Week 6 - Teaching large classes

Frankly, I have to admit that it is very difficult and very challenging to teach large classes at the same time. I used to teach large classes and I still do. In my opinion, it is difficult to teach large classes because we cannot deal with every student individually. I employed many different methods in order to make my students feel motivated and more active during the lessons. During my five years of teaching, I concluded that students, in large classes, are very motivated when they work in groups, especially when they make the projects. In this ways, students could evaluate their knowledge of English.
On one hand, I must admit that it is very difficult to track the progress of large classes, especially when you are the only teacher of English in your school and you have many classes. Honestly, I have not used any certain assessment tool expect the ones which are available in the teachers’ books. In this tables, I can see all their grades from different skills (writing, speaking, reading and grammar), but it is not sufficient for me and for my students. The only self-evaluation and peers’ evaluation is when we practice for dictation. My students have never used any on-line resource in order to assess their work. As the extension of our skills in this course, this thread attracted my attention.
The first material I read was Using Technology in Teaching Large Classes from the University of Oregon's Teaching Effectiveness Program. On this site, I discovered many useful pieces of information which can help us to improve and build our skills of teaching in large classes. One of the titles that caught my eye is *Building a Relationship with your Audience*. When I opened it, I have found another title *Better Communication in Large Classes *. To tell the truth, I always wondered how to have better communication with many students in one class. In my previous experiences, I tried my best in order to keep all students active during the lessons, even those ones who have poor knowledge of English. They used to be motivated, but it happened that the motivation was not at the satisfactory level because some students feel rejected if we do not pay a lot of attention to them. But it is sometimes impossible because a lesson lasts for 45 minutes. 
What is appealing in this article is that we should make small places, i.e. we have to move to location that are closer to students and which are comfortable for communication. We also have to create a supportive climate and I like the methods for creating such a climate in this article, even I use all of them. Here are the methods:
  1. Making personal comments on student papers and exams, (i.e., notes of commendation on high-scoring papers or on those of students whose exam scores show dramatic improvement).
  2. Personally complimenting every student who receives an A on a paper or exam.
  3. Recognizing as many students as possible by name in class. The recognition of some students has benefits that spill over to all students.
  4. Get students involved in the communication process.
The next thing I found interesting for me in the article is the variety of ways to enhance students’ participation in a large class:

  • Encouraging students to submit written questions from which the instructor can choose the most relevant for response.
  • Identifying participant areas. This may be the lower left quadrant one period and the upper right another period. At an appropriate point in the lecture, the instructor may engage one quadrant of 20 or more students in discussion.
  • Giving class members a handout that lists each period and a group of students who can expect to be involved in discussion. The advance warning enables them to prepare.
  • Get personal.  
I prefer these ways of enhancing students’ participation, especially giving class members a handout that lists each period and a group of students who can expect to be involved in discussion. Students’ task will be to prepare different topic (each group with different thread). In this ways, students can be very, very motivated because they can prepare themselves ahead and they will also have more self-confidence. They can also collect many rewarding information which I also find motivating for students.
In my opinion, it is very rewarding to use technology in large classes. PBL is a fantastic way of teaching and learning in such classes. In this way, students can develop and improve their skills of writing, speaking, reading and grammar by doing the projects. They can also evaluate each others’ activities and this can also help them  more to be *independent learners*. This is also constructive for teachers because they can track students’ progress continuously and more easily and the lessons can be organized in better ways. A WebQuest can be also used in large classes because students can develop their teams’ skills. 

I also found a rewarding article about on-line assessment which can be very helpful for teachers who teach large classes. It is available at Online Assessment  (Online Assessment with Blackboard (PDF logo PDF File 591K)). I really prefer this way of Blackboard assessing because the assessments provide students with immediate feedback and students are automatically graded. On the other hand, teachers can use the Assessments to test students’ knowledge, measure students’ progress and gather information from students. What I also like is that Blackboard offers two assessment options:

1. Tests: Tests are created to check the knowledge and skill level
of students enrolled in the course. The tests option allows the
instructor to assign point value and feedback to each question.
When a student completes a test it is submitted for grading. The
results are recorded in the Grade Center automatically.
Surveys: Surveys are useful for polling purposes, evaluations,
and random checks of knowledge. They function in the same
way as tests and offer most of the same options.

2. Surveys cannot give feedback to the user, they cannot be graded, there
are no points associated with a survey, nor will a name be
associated with a submitted survey. The online Grade Center
will reflect that the survey has been taken and submitted by
issuing a check mark next to the user's name. Anonymous
survey results are collected in one location for easy viewing.

There are also many pros and cons about using Blackboard. I discovered many useful advantages and disadvantages in this article. At first, I will list the benefits of Blackboard, i.e. on-line assessment:

Increase student engagement in the curriculum - When students see their test results immediately, they are more likely to be interested in the outcome than when they have to wait days for a grade.

Provide detailed and immediate feedback - Students may be presented with scores and explanations immediately if desired. Marking for some types of assessment item can be automatic. Hinting can be implemented if appropriate.

A painless way to integrate technology - Often instructors are encouraged to use technology in the classroom but don't have the time or resources they need to implement their technology plans. Online assessment is an easy way to begin using technology on a regular basis- without using extra time or resources.

Location and time independent - Students can take a test from anywhere that provides access to the Internet, during whatever time period you specify, using their own equipment if desired. Students can take tests while on vacation or home sick.

Automatic score recording - Blackboard scores tests (with the exception of essay questions) automatically. These scores are logged into the online Grade Center and are immediately visible for student access. This takes the responsibility of grading and recording off of the instructor or GTF.

More frequent assessments - Increased assessment may help instructors more accurately gauge student learning.

A time-saver - Online testing saves teachers grading time. More importantly, online testing saves instructional time, both in class and out. Often students can complete online tests in less time than it takes to complete pen-and-paper tests. The extra time can be used for higher-order thinking projects that apply the material on the tests!

Practice with technology-based test formats - Many standardized tests, such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE), can now be taken on a computer. The skills necessary for taking tests digitally (whether using software or the Internet) are different from those required for pen-and-paper tests. Many computerized tests, for example, don't allow students to return to a question after submitting an answer. The first guess, therefore, must be the best guess. Using online assessment introduces students to those emerging test strategies.

Introduction of website and media - This can include sound, video, images, animation, and interactivity. These can be useful for problem-solving simulations, challenging critical thinking and for students with different learning styles.

Timeliness - When and how long the assessment is available is controlled by the instructor. If you are using the assessment as a learning check, the timing can be set up so that the assessment is available immediately following class time. Students can test themselves on material and if necessary access additional assistance while the content is still fresh in their minds.

Here are also some of the potential problems:

Accessibility - All students must have regular reliable access to computer hardware and a connection to the Internet without undue time restrictions.

Students require some technology skills - Students need to have at least baseline competencies in using the technologies. The opportunities to practice the skills needed for dealing with any time critical assessment item should be given.

Cheating - How do you know the person sitting at the computer is the student in your class? How do you know they don’t have their book open, or whether or not they are taking it with a buddy? The truth is, in most cases, you don’t. It is suggested that Blackboard assessments fall on the lower end of the assessment spectrum, should not carry a severe impact on students’ grades, and should not be the only measure of learning in the course.

Impersonality - Although students are getting feedback on their performance, the human touch is missing. Students may become excessively discouraged if they encounter frequent poor results.

Technology Problems - Technical problems (e.g. failed hardware, phone line outages etc.) may need to be allowed for, and participants should be encouraged to document these problems rather than just complain, "It doesn't work."

Time Commitment - Although online assessments can decrease your overall workload, building the assessments take time. As the instructor, you’ll need to find the time upfront to build the assessments. Also, while an online assessment may take less time on the student side as well, it cannot as easily be started and stopped if necessary. Once a student starts the assessment, they need to be sure to allocate enough time to finish the exam.
I prefer this way of assessing students’ knowledge because it is very motivating for students. In this way, students can also develop many skills which we mentioned during our previous discussions on Nicenet.
I would also recommend this following URL We can find many constructive video clips about interactive teaching methods.

A last thought is that we all must have a passion and a lot of enthusiasm for our work and our subject. When we posses these two things, we will teach large classes easily and we will achieve every possible goal.



  1. Once again Rade, wow! You have a way with words :)

    I agree with you that tracking the progress of a large class if very hard. Especially since there are always different learners integrated in the same classroom and some are much slower due to dyslexia or other learning difficulties. With larger classes I sometimes have to cut my losses and take the middle ground, I can't go too fast and I can't slow down too much either or the ohers will get bored. Sometimes just having 2 versions of the same task, one easier than the other, working with a large class can be easier. This requires some work by the teacher before-hand.

    By the way, if you want to embed YouTube videos to your blog post, get the code from YouTube by clicking share and then copypasting the code onto the html form of your blog post.

    1. Hello Anna,

      Thank you so much for your comment and for your YouTube videos. Yes, it is very hard to deal with every student individually because I'm such a kind of teacher who likes to help every student about understanding a certain topic. As you said that we have two versions of the same task, I agree with this because every classroom is consisted of different learners, i.e. some have learning difficulties. It is completely true that in such a case, a teacher has to prepare ahead and every goal will be achieved.

      Best regards

  2. Hallo Rade,

    Allow me to say that i like your blog.I also teach very large classes. It is true that teaching is not an easy task when one has over 40 students. In Kenya a normal class should not more than 40 students.What i do, I group the children in mix ability groups.I make sure the bright students get to understand the concept.They then teach the slow learners in their groups.I then give some 2 or 3 questions to check if they have grasp the concept.Peer teaching helps because the student use their on peer language which the students understand best.It works for me though not 100%

    1. Hello Amina,

      Thank you so much for your comment. I do my best to make my blog look a little bit interesting for reading. In my country, the maximum is 33 students in one classroom. It seems that we have a lot of it in common concerning teaching large classes. I also group students with different learning abilities. So, the bright students can help slow learners. I found that this is very motivating for students and it happened that many slow learners progressed a lot.

      Best regards


  3. Dear Rade,

    Thank you sharing your ideas. Your postings always help me. I'm really struggling to handle large classes. Some students look boring and the other do not get what to do. This is my duty to cultivate their motivation and make the lessons attractive.


    1. Hello Chiyoko,

      Thanks so much for your comment. It is very encouraging one. I am glad to hear that my posts help you. I think that we all struggle with large classes, but we need a lot of patience and love and then we will get the result. There are different kinds of students in every class. Some of them look boring and some are very active. I think that all these rewarding things from Week 6 can help us a lot.

      Best regards