A question was recently posted by Deborah Hobbs after the article on How to introduce the chart to your class. This made me think about the knotty problems of rolling enrolment and mixed experience.

Hi Adrian, I recently watched (on you tube) your 1 hour lesson for introducing the chart to a new class. It was really interesting as I’m trying to incorporate the chart more seemlessly into my lessons and studying for the DipTESOL . My question is, how do I teach the introductory (chart) lesson when my classes have a rolling enrollment? – Within one class some students attend for 1/2 weeks, whilst others for some months. Clearly I can’t spend an hour introducing the chart on a weekly or fortnightly basis, neither can I assume that new students have a statisfactory phonemic awareness to ‘jump straight in’. Any suggestions you can give me would be greatly appreciated.

Hi Deborah. Thanks for raising this question. I know there are many teachers facing the problems caused by rolling enrolment, and it is easy to see the educational disadvantages of such a management system. One problem with new students joining a class every week is that they have not experienced the work the others did, and therefore cannot participate fully in the current work. This holds the class up, because the old students don’t need to repeat work, it wastes their time, and the new students can’t proceed unless that work is done. A familiar dilemma for the teacher. Familiar too is the awkwardness, impatience and undermining of class harmony.

Maybe this is not quite the problem it seems, so let me explain, and then suggest what you can do about it. We see this as a problem if we see learning as a linear sequence. Like building a wall, you can’t lay the second layer of bricks until you’ve laid the first. And we can find evidence for this in our classes, where our thinking is also influenced by linear course book syllabuses and linear thinking. But supposing learning can be multi-directional and multi-layered, supposing the wall of learning can be started at multiple levels at the same time, supposing learning can break out all over the place, with the bits gradually coalescing and reordering themselves into a whole…. Look at how siblings of different ages can play together for ages, each totally engrossed, each following their own agenda in interaction with the others who are engrossed in theirs, yet they are supposedly at different levels and at school would be in different classes.….. Now let’s go back to the concrete example of working with the phonemic chart. First, I am not teaching the chart but simply putting it into circulation, giving an experience of working with it. Second, this experience will be followed by multiple other experiences, even if there are no newcomers to the class. Third, every student makes a different sense of it at each exposure, none of them ‘learn what I teach’. Fourth, their different sense making is also transmitted between them as they watch and work and learn from each other. Fifth, and here is an important one, have you ever noticed how the child who has been absent for two weeks finds their way to catch up? Have you noticed how when one new student joins an already well established class, they generally catch up? Somehow the learning already done by the class is absorbed by the newcomer?

So what would I do? I would have this in mind, and specifically I would use all of the ways to introduce the chart outlined in my post How to introduce the chart to your class. And I would invent more as I went along. And I would see that any usage adds to the collective experience, so I would use the chart as much as possible. Every time I get the class to point to new words on the chart is at the same time another introduction to the chart.

In this way constant usage, constant incorporation of the chart into every aspect of the lesson is vital for the continuing process of the never-ending introduction and familiarisation of the chart. My suggestion is, don’t expect or wait for the students to suddenly ‘get it’, but keep offering new experience, allowing each student to be at their own place with the chart, not at some common class level. My experience is that it can be possible to work constructively with such a ‘mess’!

In some way all classes are mixed levels and mixed experience, and in that sense perhaps these ideas can apply to everyone.