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Individualization

Let this imaginary English teacher explain what you need to know about individualization

individuals

Imagine yourself being a regular English teacher. Then, think about your students. Even in your class of the same-aged children, no one shares absolutely the same personality, language level, memory capacity, abilities and interests. The way they learn and process information also differs. The way they feel about your lessons differs. The way they feel about you differs.

So, you are standing in front of your students. It’s Monday morning, the beginning of this week and the beginning of your carefully planned-in-advance lesson. You will probably start with a presentation telling new information in the same way for everyone. Then, you will give them the same amount of time to complete the same exercises. You haven’t printed enough texts, so you’ll just make some students work in pairs whether they want it or not. Is that what you imagine doing as a teacher? Is that how you usually have been taught at school by your real English teachers? It’s definitely the easiest way to do it, but if you want all of your imaginary students to succeed in their learning of a foreign language and not lose their motivation, you are likely to benefit more from individualization or individualized instruction.

“But what is individualization exactly?” you might ask. Does it mean you have to create individual lesson plans and set of exercises for each learner? After thinking about how much time and effort and how many sleepless nights that will take, you shake in terror. The truth is there is no generally-accepted definition of individualized instruction. Many educators seem to agree that it’s such an instruction that is “calibrated to meet the unique pace of various students” (Basye, 2018) and “consists of any steps taken in planning and conducting programs of studies and lessons that suit them to the individual student’s learning needs, learning readiness and learner characteristics or ‘learning style’ ” (Heathers, 1977). It’s “the concept that students will learn most effectively when the activity is specific to their needs, and the language they are using is appropriate for their level” (Walkley, 2019). Search for more definitions, read a lot of articles and extracts from books devoted to this topic, but you won’t find a lot of helpful examples, because individualization exists in many different forms. And if you’re still confused, let this imaginary English teacher explain what you need to know about individualization.

This time, it’s not a story about you. It’s a story about one imaginary teacher. Her name is Maple. Her hair is long and her eyes are purple like… I can feel you are looking at me with an unreadable expression on your face. Indeed, it doesn’t matter how Maple looks. What matters is how she shows individual attention to different students during her lessons.

Maple conducts two lessons with eighth graders today. She is excited to see her students again after a long winter break. As they enter the classroom one by one or in small groups, she greets them and has a little chat with each individual student. Casually, Maple asks some of them whether they read any interesting books over the break. There is a reason behind it. Lately, she has been busy analyzing the results of activities and tests she had with her students in the previous term. Apparently, the vast majority of them did poorly completing reading exercises. Out of four language skills, she decided to concentrate a little bit more on improving her students’ reading comprehension. At the beginning of the first lesson, Maple informs her students that they will read a lot this term, work with different kinds of texts and learn different reading strategies. That’s attention to her students’ learning needs.

Later, when distributing texts, Maple asks if students want to work individually or in pairs. Some children receive personalized sheets with instructions or extra information that she thinks they in particular will find very useful. It took some time, but Maple had become more aware of differences among her students through careful observation, interest surveys and constant feedback. In a quiet classroom, she moves from one student to another clarifying something and answering questions as she spots someone who needs additional guidance. Everyone is working at their individual pace. There is a link for those who want to listen to the audio of the text. For those who finish earlier, Maple always has crosswords, additional materials, extra tasks or an interesting video on the topic to watch. That’s attention to her students’ preferred ways of learning and pacing.

At the end of the second lesson, Maple invites everybody to participate in her reading experiment “21-Day Marathon” and asks what kind of texts they would like to read – academic or literary – and on what topic. She is considering preparing different texts for different students or groups of students. In this experiment, individualization is possible according to learners’ interests and reading levels.

The lessons are over. While sitting in a classroom alone, Maple suddenly remembers that she has forgotten to mention home task for the next two lessons. Homework can help individualize learning. From a wide range of different tasks, students may choose one, explain their choice, do thorough research, discover more about their preferences and passions, and finally, share the results with their peers. Maple isn’t worried, though. Her students still have to think about whether they will participate in her reading experiment or not and about what they want to read during it anyway.

I hope now you understand that throughout the lesson there are always opportunities for individualization. By giving attention and encouragement to individual students and involving them in creation of their learning activities, this imaginary teacher Maple makes sure they become more engaged and motivated.

Written by Dariga Kenzhebayeva for EnglishClub | March 2020
Fourth-year student in the Faculty of Philology at the L. N. Gumilyov Eurasian National University

One comment

  • Amanuel says:

    It is good, and to give some idea to lower class or high school level. to organize a meeting a student, parent and school to give chance individually to discuss with
    a student. In addition, a teacher must organizes and sees equal three kind of students in class, the clever one, the middle one and the weak one together.

    As a result, the students can involve and improve their learning activities by discussing with their parent and a teacher, and a teacher can get information from the students and parents to improve his students and for himself to improve his teaching system. Parents as well,to help their children

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