The United Kingdom (UK) is more multicultural than any other time in history. As of December 2022, the BAME population made up 18.3% of the UK population (United Kingdom Government, 2022). The latter diversity has been cascaded to classrooms with the secondary population, with 19.5% of pupils indicating that they had another language other than English. Critically, there has been a push to incorporate more pupils with Special Educational Needs/Disabilities (SEND) into the regular classroom (United Kingdom Government, 2022). The result of the UK becoming more multicultural and the push for inclusivity in classrooms is more diversity in the classrooms in regard to elements such as race, ethnicity and students with special education needs. While a step towards more diverse classrooms is encouraging, this presents a challenge to teachers who have to adapt pedagogical approaches to cater to the students’ diverse backgrounds and educational needs. This paper will seek to examine my currency class environment (secondary school), which currently has students from diverse backgrounds in regard to race, ethnicity, and proficiency in the English language (L1 and ESL), and determine a pedagogical challenge arising from the latter class environment and also provide a digital technology solution to a pedagogical challenge within my professional practice.
Description of the setting
As noted above, the UK has become more multicultural in recent decades, an element that has been cascaded to the classroom setting. Additionally, with more immigrants in the last few decades, the number of students whose English is not their first language has increased. The latter dynamics in British society can be reflected in my classroom setting as an English secondary school teacher, with around 30% of my students being from the BAME background. Critically, a significant number of students in my classroom have English as their second language in their households. With the diverse classrooms, the challenge of how to guarantee that all pupils may achieve in school and beyond is brought up from an educational standpoint. Conventional educational systems have strongly emphasised uniformity and standardisation: equal goals, same content, standardised learning progression, uniform amounts of time allotted for learning, and common success criteria—regardless of the range of skills in the student body (Burns and Van Damme, 2018). The uniformity of learners has been emphasised (and outcomes). This idea of homogeneity demanded that learners be viewed as being identical in many respects and that distinctions be purposefully ignored (Burns and Van Damme, 2018). However, the traditional education strategies, which were based on the notion of homogeneity, cannot suffice in the diverse modern classroom. For instance, in my classroom, apart from the diverse ethnicities and races, the student’s mastery of English will also differ depending on whether English is the student’s first or second language. With the latter in mind, it is only reasonable that teachers adapt and tailor their teaching strategies to cater to the needs of the diverse classroom.
However, adapting to the diverse classroom has resulted in significant challenges for teachers, with Vranješević (2014) noting that teacher education for diversity is faced with numerous challenges, including the entrenched deemed dominant truths in a society that promote prejudice and homogeneity despite the changing population and classroom dynamics in regards to diversity. Apart from the societal pressures, Underwood and Tai (2021) note that the teachers training in the UK does not reflect and equip teachers to handle students’ diverse needs and backgrounds in the contemporary classroom. The latter challenges have also been reflected in my classroom setting, with I being forced to adapt and tailor my teaching strategies to the student’s different needs, backgrounds, strengths and weaknesses with minimal training and guidance. For instance, one challenge I face in my classroom is language barrier, with some of the students being from different nationalities, which means that I have to tailor my teaching methodology to cater to both L1 and ESL students. Cultural elements may also come into play. For example, in some Asian cultures looking an adult in the eye may be taken as being disrespectful, while in other cultures, not looking the adult in the eye is. Navigating the latter challenges arising from a diverse classroom setting with minimal guidance and the relevant training has proven a challenge, especially when it comes to teaching English in a classroom of students from different nationalities and English proficiency levels.
The pedagogical challenge
As indicated above, I teach secondary school English to students from diverse backgrounds in regards to race, nationality and English proficiency. The latter has presented a pedagogical challenge, with the teacher being forced to tailor the teaching materials based on the needs and dynamics of every student. Ikwumelu et al. (2015) note that while teaching a diverse classroom, the teacher is expected to identify individual differences among the students and tailor their instruction materials appropriately. While there is a recognition of the need to incorporate adaptive learning in the teaching methodology, adapting the latter teaching strategy is proving challenging. Underwood and Tai (2021) note that teacher training in the UK needs to be sufficiently geared towards preparing teachers to handle a diverse classroom. Ermenc et al. (2020) indicate that there is a need to shift to more individualised instructions in the classroom to ensure that each student’s needs, abilities and strengths are maximised.
To achieve this, Ermenc et al (2020) propose three strategies that can be taken to individualise teaching instruction. First, within any program, teaching must address both the group and individual requirements of the students; as a result, schools must treat kids equally and keep them together in both space and time (Ermenc et al, 2020). The implementation of differentiated instruction must be done in a way that benefits all students without minimising the individual differences of each student, and differentiation-related activities must support the best possible growth and accomplishment of each student’s learning objectives Ermenc et al (2020). As a result, schools must eliminate socially conditioned learning gaps and offer all kids an equal chance for growth Ermenc et al (2020). In essence, a teacher must learn to balance the collective educational needs of all students while also ensuring that there is some form of individualisation tailored towards each student’s abilities and knowledge level. Striking a balance between the two has proven challenging since, in some cases concentrating on some students to bring them up to speed means that the rest of the class needs to be paid attention to. Critically, individualising learning instructions to each student’s abilities may be time-consuming and can also result in expecting less of some students than the teacher does others- which may result in the dumbing down of the curriculum on offer.
Solution in theory
The main pedagogical challenge identified in my classroom setting is adapting and tailoring the English teaching instructions to reflect the different backgrounds and abilities of the students. Several theoretical foundations can help formulate a solution to the previously mentioned challenge. These include;
Flavell (1978) first defined metacognition as the knowledge that takes as it objects or regulates aspects of cognitive behaviour. The latter definition was further refined by Brown and Baker (1984), who defined the idea of metacognition by differentiating static and strategic knowledge. Static knowledge, in this case, refers to what individuals can articulate about cognition, whereas strategic knowledge is made up of the techniques that people employ to control a certain cognitive activity (Brown and Baker, 1984). In a later version of their definition of metacognition, Baker and Brown (1984) stated that it is a knowledge of what abilities, techniques, and resources are needed to accomplish a task successfully; and the capacity to apply self-regulatory mechanisms to ensure the successful completion of a task. Based on the above definition there are two main elements of metacognition-self-appraisal and self-management. The latter core elements of the metacognitive theory are key in the application of the metacognition theory in learning and education. Paris and Winograd (1990) indicate that self-appraisal in metacognitive theory comprises learners’ reflection regarding their abilities, knowledge and understanding during the learning process, while self-management involves the mental processes that push the learner to undertake action. Combining the metacognitive theory and adaptive learning has proven to be effective, with a study undertaken by (Carlon and Cross, 2022) indicating that learning models that incorporated metacognitive inputs performed better than standard models without metacognitive inputs.
Metacognitive theory can be critical in helping solve the above-described pedagogical challenge. One of the challenges noted above is personalising the instructional materials while ensuring that all students are actively engaged. The latter challenge can be solved by following the principles of meta-cognition of self-appraisal and management, with the aim to encourage students to reflect on their knowledge and abilities continually and then take action to improve their weaknesses (Garrison, 2011). This will ensure that the student takes the initiative in their own adaptive learning, partly relieving the teacher of the responsibility of personalising each student’s instructional material. In turn, the teacher will be able to engage with the whole classroom and also offer additional guidance to students individually without consuming much time hence ensuring a balance between the collective educational needs of all students while also ensuring that there is some form of individualisation tailored towards each student’s abilities and knowledge level.
Deliberate Practice theory
The deliberate practice theory places focus on the student’s capacity to comprehend and integrate progress in targeted abilities holistically and stresses the importance of quality over quantity of encounters in the quest for expertise (Ericksson et al., 1993). Essentially, the theory of deliberate practice proposes that, rather than merely repeating a job until it is mastered, the development of expertise necessitates the inclusion of a self-reflective feedback loop into the skill delivery or development process (Wang and Zorek, 2016). Time for self-reflection and immediate feedback are essential for enabling the learner to self-adjust and make adjustments before beginning the next activity in order to attain maximum efficiency (Wang and Zorek, 2016). The fundamental tenets of the deliberate practice theory can also be applied in the classroom setting, with students who may not be proficient in English being encouraged to self-evaluate/reflect with the objective of personalising their learning to, for example, areas of weaknesses to improve their learning outcomes.
Solution in practice
Adaptive learning technology
One of the solutions that can be implemented to mitigate the above-detailed pedagogical challenge is adopting adaptive learning technology. The term adaptive learning technology refers to a concept that covers a range of technologies and approaches involving the use of software that monitors student performance and engagement with digital resources, frequently in conjunction with an LMS, and modifies each student’s learning path based on the information gathered from that engagement (Kruger, 2020: Loveless & Williamson, 2013). Adaptive learning technology aims to solve the challenges of traditional instructional methods, which follow a one-fits-all approach by personalising instructional material based on each student’s needs and abilities (Newman et al. 2015). Critically, adaptive learning technology can be deployed in two major ways: presentation of learning materials and facilitating educational activities/processes (Kruger, 2020). Adaptive learning technology as a tool may be applied to both: strong pedagogical concepts to enhance the learning process and provide the appropriate information to the appropriate learner at the appropriate moment (Kruger, 2020). White (2020) notes that adaptive learning technology confers several advantages, including enabling the instructor to effectively teach students from different backgrounds by personalising instruction materials, efficient use of class time by enabling the teacher to focus on weak areas and enabling the teacher to provide updated and current content. Examples of adaptive learning technologies include text-to-speech softwares, on-screen keyboards, and magnification applications, among others.
Adaptive learning technology can be used in various forms. For instance, text-to-speech softwares can be used during pronunciation classroom lessons to help students whose English is the second language pronounce new words. This will help not only the students with their speaking skills but also their reading skills by being able to pronounce and read correctly. An adaptive learning platform can complement the latter adaptive learning technologies, for example, the Century adaptive learning platform, which would enable the students to identify knowledge gaps and misconceptions among students and subsequently personalise their learning content based on the identified gaps it comes to English.
The implications of deploying adaptive learning technologies include improved learning outcomes with students being able to identify their weaknesses via the adaptive learning platforms and then personalising their learning content to address the identified gaps (Ross et al, 2018). Apart from the improved learning outcomes, a study undertaken by Ross et al (2018) further notes that adaptive learning technologies lead to improved student motivation and student engagement, thus enhancing the efficiency of the learning processes. Critically, implementing adaptive learning technology when it comes to testing will enable the students to have dispersed or spaced practice, which has been proven to have beneficial effects on learning (Van der Kleij, Feskens, & Eggen, 2015). At regularly spaced times, adaptive testing can be utilised to reinforce learning by offering the chance and inciting distributed practice (Van der Kleij, Feskens, & Eggen, 2015).
In my particular case, I can deploy several tools to measure the impact and effectiveness of the adaptive learning technology. The first tool is observing the trend when it comes to the student’s grades and assessment outcomes. I can also measure the change in student engagement levels before and after deploying the adaptive learning technologies. According to a study done by El-Sabagh (2021), increased student achievements are positively correlated with higher levels of student involvement. Because adaptive learning is anticipated to increase student engagement, a teacher can assess students’ levels of involvement before and after implementing adaptive learning using techniques including self-report questionnaires, case studies, and teacher evaluations.
With evolving classroom dynamics, teachers must adapt their teaching styles and methodologies to suit contemporary knowledge and classroom dynamics. This has been particularly the case in the last few years when classrooms have become more adverse, prompting teachers to change their instructional styles. However, the latter has proven a challenge due to aspects such as minimal training and the need to balance the needs of the whole and the needs of individual students. However, adaptive learning tools have been touted as a solution to the increasing classroom diversity as they allow the teacher and the students to individualise their learning based on their knowledge levels, strengths and weaknesses. In my classroom setting, adaptive learning tools such as text-to-speech software and adaptive learning platforms can help identify knowledge gaps in English and offer personalised learning content to mitigate them. With classrooms becoming more diverse, there is a need for various educational institutions, including secondary schools to implement adaptive learning to ensure that all students from different backgrounds achieve their learning outcomes.
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