This year I am teaching ESL to 8 classes with class numbers ranging from 32 to 56 using very much the same teaching material. I would like to use forums with separate groups to give a text or audio and have some some discussions either generated by me or by the students as a before or after class activity.
It seems having over 50 students in one forum could be unwieldy and with repetition of answers. I am considering making each class a grouping and creating groups of 15 -20 in each grouping. That would be over 20 groups but should increase student involvement.
Has anyone else used groups and groupings to split up multiple large classes? Any pitfalls you can see to the alternative of running 8 groups each corresponding to a class? Is there a better way? What is the best size for a forum?
What a bunch of questions..wow!
There are, as I understand it, two main schools of thought here. One is the more the merrier, one big discussion group gets everyone involved, or at least there are leaders in discussion and followers. The leaders discuss ideas and the followers read and, sometimes, apply the leaders thoughts to their work.
The other school is breaking people down into similar or mixed types. Put all the potential leaders in one group and range each group down to those who barely speak, based on age, interests socio-economic standing or whatever kind of division you want to apply. Or put one or two or three potential leaders into each groups and randomize the rest.
Depending on your audience, either way can work, just select the better one that suits your situation and audience.
It may be that you could do what is done here, in these forums, a general forum and then more specific forums for specific interests. In an ESL class, it might be the general forum covers everything, with a forum to discuss movies, another to talk about books, another to discuss the daily headlines, another to discuss magazines. However you want to set them up.
There is, I suggest, no correct way of doing things, that will suit everyone, so terms like "best practice" and "world standard" are a nonsense. What works in your classes is best practice for that class, yet that will vary from class to class, cohort to cohort. What works today, won't tomorrow, so what yields the best results? We should never consider that we have a winning formula for achieving the best outcomes for all our classes, for all time. We just do the best we can with what we have and if something doesn't work, change it and move on.
As long as your students have a clear idea of where they are, and where they need to be, a direction and a goal, then most of the time, things will work out.
To be more specific - the students are very homogeneous. All attend the same school, live on campus 8 to a room and usually eat and socialize together. All 20 years old give or take a year. All born not just in the same country but the same province, All speak the same languages, went to similar schools, and scored roughly the same on their school exams. In other classes I have taught, there have been half a dozen different birth countries represented and discussions of differences can be interesting. Not so here.
So my idea is to create a topic to spur discussion, say a newspaper article. I would ask each student to find a difficult word and translate or define it, or ask them to give a point of view. Activities like this are limited - there are only so many hard words or different ways to look at a topic and I suspect over 50 in a group would inevitably end up in many similar postings.
To create more involvement, perhaps I could ask each student could post an interesting article in a new thread - again 50 new threads would be overwhelming but 20 could be less daunting.
Class is on next week so I will have a play today. I am particularly interested in creating the groups, seeing how much time is involved in having 20 similar but separate discussion groups, and how I can showcase outstanding replies to all the students.
The groups should be 4 to 5 students, in total about 90 groups.
Four groups go into a first level grouping of around 16 students so about 22 groupings at the subclass level.
Each class gets its own grouping - so 8 groupings at that level made up of 2 to 4 subclass grouping.
Finally a master grouping which is all 360 students.
I would expect to work at sub-class or class level but have the flexibility to go up or down in numbers. The groups of 4 could be useful for setting classroom group assignments and a discussion forum for everyone should be useful.
I should be able to track each grouping by a prefix (S,C,M) . Just have to make it work.
However it works, but if it is not working change it, quickly otherwise you run the risk of turning students off altogether. As for discussion material, daily news is always a good start... Believe it or not, fairy tales or folk tales are also brilliant for discussion. Brothers Grimm, Mother Goose and Little Golden Books are excellent. The nonsense works like Hairy MacLary and Dr Suess can really get students talking because they not only need to comprehend, they need to apply, analyse and be very creative in response to the stories, all up the top end of Bloom's Taxonomy. Good luck..