On the first day of my student placement at my high school, my mentor teacher described the three English classes she had. She described her unusual third period class, a Grade 9 Applied English/ESL class, to which I simply thought, “that must be tough to teach”. However, once I started observing the class and, especially, when I started teaching, I began to realize how challenging this class actually is. The class was two courses combined, with students varying in levels. Aside from the Applied English students, the ESL students also ranged in language levels (ESL Levels 1-3). Another challenge was the fact that the ESL students had a different curriculum from the Grade 9 Applied English class, which makes planning more difficult.
I realized how challenging this class could be as soon as I started lesson planning my first lesson. I had no idea where to start. Before I begin discussing my pivotal moment and the lesson that led up to it, I would like to explain the way my mentor teacher has set up the class. When she explained the situation, I asked her how she dealt with this kind of classroom.
I was interested in knowing about her teaching strategies, her lesson formatting, and her community building ideas. She structures the class by dividing it into two and teaching them separately. The two classes sit separately, focus on different units and do different activities. For example, when the Applied English students are learning about news reports, the ESL students are writing a story book about themselves. So, at the beginning of class, my mentor teacher would present a brief teaching point – for example, the key elements of a news report – and then assign independent work for the rest of the class. Then, she would move on to the ESL students and present a brief teaching point – for example, using the simple present tense – and also assign them independent work. Both my mentor teacher and I agreed that this is a less than ideal way to teach.