Teaching learning in a classroom setting must not be complete and fair if individual students are not satisfied in terms of their learning needs and preferences being addressed. There is an old saying that ‘one size may not fit all’. Similarly, in a classroom only one teaching method may not be effective for all children. According to Cooley, “It is important to recognize that ‘fairness’ in education does not mean that all children have to be taught in the exact same way. Instead it means accounting for the needs of individual students and adjusting the curriculum accordingly”. Therefore, in a classroom teaching learning will only be successful if individuality of students is recognized and addressed through customized classroom instructions. Now, the questions come along: is it possible? in all contexts? what if it is a large classroom?
The answers to these questions have been explored in this report, in the context of Bangladesh, through a classroom observation and interview with teacher, conducted in the pre-primary classroom of a government school. This particular pre-primary school was initially implemented under a national NGO named Shurovi in partnership with Plan Bangladesh. However, it has been registered as a government pre-primary school in 2014.
Tools and Techniques
To explore individualized teaching in a classroom setting two qualitative techniques have been used: i) Observation, and ii) Interview. For observation, a simple checklist has been used to identify individual differences among the children and scope challenges and supports available for individualized teaching in the classroom. The observation started from 8:30am and continued up to 10:45am. There were one teacher and 38 children, 15 male and rest of them female, present out of 40 on that particular day of observation. After the observation the teacher has been interviewed with permission. An open ended questionnaire has been used as a tool for conducting the interview.
Physical Environment of the Classroom
The classroom was a large rectangular room with six big windows and one door leading to a thin veranda opening up in a big play ground. The windows allowed plenty of light and air in the classroom. The room had cemented floor and had furniture for sitting for children, a chair for the teacher, a shelf right next to the board for keeping books and biscuits (as snack for children) and a trunk for keeping materials. There was a blackboard in one wall facing the direction where children were sitting. A class routine was hung high up at the right side board. On the right corner of the board the total number of children, number of children present and the date was written by the teacher. The classroom also had lights and a fan (however, the fan was not working). The detail observation of the physical environment of the class has been organized in the following sections:
Sitting arrangement: There were six wooden rectangular shaped tables and six thin benches and available for the children. 5/6 children occupied one table. The tables and chairs were age appropriate.
Play area: There was plenty of space in front of the board for activities with body movements or play inside the classroom. However, the space was yet a little tight for having all children involved in any large group activities. There is a large playground outside which would allow outdoor activities and play for all children.
Corners: There were three corners that had been identified during the observation. The names of the corners were written on each of the walls. There were a book corner, a block corner and a thinking corner. However, no related materials could be found in any of the corners. The children did not use any of the corners during observation. According to the teacher, the children sometimes use these corners whenever they feel like.
Materials: There were a number of different materials available in the classroom. There were a couple of charts on the walls available including charts of English and Bengali alphabets and a picture of a tree showing the different parts of it. However, the use of these charts could not be observed during the observation period and the charts were not hung at the eye level of the children. There was a list of story books hung up on the wall at the book corner. There were also blocks, flash cards and some other play materials available in the trunk. Only the block set was given to the children at the end of the class for few minutes.
The major findings from the observation of the classroom and the interview with the teacher are discussed in a thematic manner in this section. This section will reveal the individual differences available in the class and the way the teacher was trying to address those. It will also discuss about the challenges and opportunities the teacher had faced during the class on that particular day.
Identifying Individual Differences
In that classroom full of 38 children, diverse characteristics and individual differences were visible among the children that included different gender, age group, personality, social and family background, learning preferences, interest and intelligence. The first and easily distinguishable individual differences among the children were gender and age.
There were 15 male and the rest were female students. The age group of the children varied from 3 to 5 year old according to the teacher. It was apparent from the observation that the younger children needed more support, guidance and clarity of instruction than the older children. The older age group, who are about 5 year old could catch the instructions promptly and also could finish the work on time. This can completely be related to what Piaget proposed in his theory of cognitive development that maturation plays a key role with active experience in children’s development.
There were also identifiable variations among children’s personality. A group of hyper, shy, calm, friendly and compassionate, and moody children were identified. There were 3 or 4 hyper children who became too restless when they had to sit in one place for drawing or writing. One restless child hit another child during this time. There were a number of shy kids who seemed uncomfortable when the teacher was asking them to come to the board. There was one particular child who was very prompt in his responses and very friendly and compassionate at the same time. He tried to help his friend to complete his task and then he started his own because he was very confident about the task. A couple of kids were not participating in any anything in particular because they were not interested or did not have the mood on that particular day as explained by the teacher because they usually participate in other days. The teacher explained children are usually moody and their interests vary with their mood changes. However, their mood is usually connected to their personal or family situations. She mentioned that one particular child who was not willing to participate because his mother just went away for work and he was still coping with the situation.
Apart from differences in personality or temperament, subtle differences in social class and family background were visible; however, this may be a subject to further in depth analysis. Most of the children were either from lower or from lower middle class socio-economic background. It was found from the interview with the teacher that in some of the families both parents are working and away from the family and the children are raised with grandmother or other extended family members. In these cases the children are usually not organized; they tend to lose their books, pencils and exercise copies at times due to lack of proper supervision at home. In some families, only the father is the earning member. In some cases the children are raised with single parents. In most cases mothers, at times both of the parents, are just primary or secondary school graduates. However, in some families mothers are very keen about their children’s education according to the teacher. According to the teacher, these children always have their books and exercise copies in place. Some of the protective mothers spend a substantial amount of time in the school premises outside the classroom presumably to see how their children are coping or learning which was witnessed during the observation period.
Most of the children in kindergarten are kinesthetic learners , and it has been quite visible and proved again in the observed classroom that children indeed enjoy learning by doing when it comes to learning style preferences. The children were very excited when it came to do activities with body movements and writing on the board. The observation revealed a mix of visual, auditory and kinesthetic learners available in the classroom. Some children could easily understand the instruction by listening to the teacher while others had to wait for the teacher to show it on the board or on their copies indicating the different learning preferences between auditory and visual learners. However, most of the children were responding more when they were given a task of performing with body movement, drawing on the copy or writing on the board, indicating a kinesthetic preference in learning.
Similarly, multiple intelligence could be identified from observing children engaged in different types of activities. When asked to tell the rhymes, some children could easily retell the rhymes which can be assumed as having linguistic intelligence. While others showed bodily-kinesthetic intelligence through body movements during the rhymes session. Some of the children were actively engaged in drawing and a couple of them could produce very nice pieces of art work showing spatial intelligence. Some of the children showed logical-mathematical intelligence during an analytical problem solving task on the board. The task was to identify what was different among four or five similar type of objects and explain why it was different. There were a couple of children who showed their intra-personal intelligence through efficiency in their task when they were given individual task to perform. Most of the children showed good level of interpersonal intelligence in the group works.
In this way, children with different types of abilities, personalities and backgrounds could be easily identified from the classroom observed. The next section will reveal how the teacher had or had not managed to address these individual differences through classroom instruction.
Teacher’s Response to Individual Differences
To address the individual needs of children, coming from various background, the teacher have to be creative at the same time diligent to design classroom instruction such that it can ensure positive learning experience for all children. In this section how far the teacher could address this issue has been explored.
Dealing with children of varied age group: Since there were children aged 3-5 year old in the classroom, the teacher had to pay attention to all age groups equally. However, she was putting in more effort and attention towards the younger children because according to her they need the extra support for coping in the classroom environment with the older aged children. It was apparent that the children who were 5 or close to 5 year old could understand the classroom instruction faster than the younger children. Whereas, children younger than this age group were struggling more to understand the classroom instruction and engaging in individual or group work accordingly. The teacher was calling the younger children to the board equally with the older ones. She was also moving from group to group and scaffolding the younger children with clues and questions.
Dealing with children with different personalities: To manage the hyper children, the teacher most of the time tried to keep them engaged in activities. However, the attempts did not work effectively due to the large number of children. At one point when a child hit another one, she had to separate them in different tables. With regard to the shy children, the teacher called their names and gave them task on the board or asked them to tell the rhymes. To engage the moody child, who was not participating in any task, the teacher did not put much effort to engage him and let him be.
Dealing with children with different learning preferences: The teacher had a mix of visual, auditory and kinesthetic teaching-learning techniques in her classroom instructions. For the visual learners she had problem solving tasks on the board with pictures that the children could easily solve. She also showed on the board the writing style maintaining margins which the students later followed and did on their copy. For the auditory learners she was verbally expressing and repeating whatever she was writing on the board. The verbal instructions along with visual cues were effective for both types of learners. For the kinesthetic learners the teacher had given task to do on the board and on their exercise copies as well. She also kept all children engaged in rhymes and games with body movement most of the time.
Considering the needs of the children with multiple intelligence: It was found from the classroom observation that the classroom instruction had different activities to address the needs for children with multiple intelligence. The rhymes and games with songs were supportive for the children with linguistic intelligence and also for children with musical intelligence. The teacher gave a problem solving task on the board where the children had to think analytically to find out what was different from a set of similar objects drawn on the board. This activity was definitely interesting for the children with logical-mathematical intelligence. The task of freehand drawing was supportive for the children with spatial intelligence. The activities with body movement were attractive for the children with bodily-kinesthetic intelligence. There were scope of working in groups and also scope for individual task which were supportive for children with interpersonal and interpersonal intelligence respectively. During the observation no instructional technique could be identified to address the needs of the children with naturalistic, moral and spiritual intelligence. However, the teacher mentioned that she sometimes takes them outside in the playground for showing or comparing shapes or objects with the natural environment.
Considering social class and family culture: When asked how the teacher takes into consideration the social class and family culture during the teaching learning activities, she mentioned that since most of the children come from a lower or lower middle socio-economic background she does not put much emphasis on homework considering there might not be anyone educated at home to support these kids. She also mentioned that she puts emphasis on cleanliness because most of these children live in a slum and cleanliness is not always a priority for all parents. In terms of family culture, the teacher mentioned that she regularly keeps contact with the parents to understand their family culture and manages the children accordingly.
Use of positive/negative phrases: The teacher was frequently using appreciative phases such as: ‘very good’, ‘good job’, ‘beautiful work’ when some of the children were showing their work or being disciplined. However, at times when the class was becoming very noisy she would lose her patience and use negative phrases, swearing and also threatened to beat them up.
• The major challenge for the teacher was managing 38 kids all alone without any assistance from an assistant teacher. She could not pay attention to all the kids when they were engaged in the activities. Some children were enthusiastically doing the work, but some were not interested at all and talking/playing/fighting among themselves, when a couple of them actually did not attempt to do anything. Overall, the classroom was noisy all along.
• The children were not coming to school on time. Some of the children came really late because of which the teacher had a hard time settling them down.
• Few of the children were too young for the class which was another challenge for the teacher to make instructional adjustments for them. One young child came late and was not letting her mother to leave while she kept crying most of the time.
• Some of the children did not bring any book or exercise copy with them. The teacher explained that most of these children were raised by extended family members or working single parents and therefore do not have sufficient supervision at home.
There were some scopes of improvement, or opportunities that the teachers might have missed, that have been identified and described as follows:
• Pair work: The teacher did not introduce pair work as part of the teaching learning process on that particular day. During the drawing session when children were drawing as they like individually, some of the children started drawing in each other’s copies. While some of them started discussing among themselves about what they want to draw. Therefore, the need for pair work had been identified at some point of the free hand drawing activity. Through pair work the children could have shared about their art work with each other. A couple of children were not drawing anything. In this case, a pair work could have engaged them effectively.
• Mixed ability grouping: Since there were children from various backgrounds and individual differences present in the class, the teacher could have distributed their seating arrangements considering the different types of abilities in them. During the group works and other activities children sitting in groups could have been reshuffled according to their abilities so that mixed ability groups could have been created. In this way the teacher could have managed the large classroom full of 38 children more efficiently.
• Story telling: Story telling could have been an effective teaching learning technique for large classroom management. It could also be attractive for the children with linguistic intelligence as well as for auditory learners because only rhymes have been used for these children. Story telling with role play or body movement could also have been effective and engaging for the kinesthetic learners.
• Use of corners: Although there were four visible corners with names marked in posters, the use of those corners could not be observed on that particular day. The effective use of those corners in groups could have helped the teacher to manage the large number of children.
• Use of materials: There were quite a few play materials available in the trunk. However, the teacher put out only a couple of sets of blocks at the end of the class which were given to all the children. Few of the children got engaged with the blocks. But most of the children did not get to play and eventually left the premise as their guardians came to pick them up. If the teacher could have used play materials and other teaching learning materials such as: pictures, flash cards, charts etc. the class could have been a more manageable and effective in terms of individualized teaching.
Implementing effective individualized teaching in a large classroom of a government pre-primary school in Bangladesh is indeed a challenging task for a teacher. According to Glen Heathers, “Individualization must not be viewed as all-or-none.” In this regard, the teacher was successful to some extent to support the children through individualized instructions. However, the observed pre-primary class could have been made even more successful and effective, in terms of addressing individuality of the students, if the number of children would have been less and if all the opportunities available could have been used properly. The teacher was trained in individualized teaching methods and was confident in her ability to address children’s individual needs. This is what made her efforts responsive towards her students’ needs, interests and learning preferences in spite of all the challenges.
RAFIATH RASHID: Programme Manager – Education, BRAC International, Dhaka, Bangladesh.