University of Leicester
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Foreign language learning by junior children in mixed-ability classes.

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posted on 2015-11-19, 09:16 authored by David J Whittaker
The problem investigated is that of the relationship between success in foreign language learning by junior children and the organisation of their learning groups, in particular, the use of undifferentiated (mixed- ability) classes. Four distinctive methods are used:- (i) historical survey of the background to foreign language teaching; (ii) appraisal of rationale; (iii) dissection of teachers views about mixed-ability foreign language learning using a questionnaire; (iv) experimental evaluation of learning success with specially designed oral attainment tests. An extensive survey employs three contrasted regional studies viz. England, Germany and Sweden. In all three countries the overall approach is now more comprehensive and flexible and non-selective. Mainly oral methods rely on cooperative children and informal, adaptable teachers; carefully graded structural components of language are learnt "naturally" in situations. There is increasing Interest in teaching foreign languages to younger children of all abilities. Certain aspects of this approach seem weakly developed. There is scant agreement about aims end the criteria of success. Many principles lack foundation; it is not clear how far they secure consolidation and continuity in learning. Little attention is paid to the feasibility of suiting a generalised approach to the specific characteristics of various learning groups. Dissection of teachers' views reveals some group differences over basic issues and much dissatisfaction. Attainment testing of streamed and unstreamed children in four schools indicates higher scores (a) for streamed children, (b) for girls. Superior performances are most marked in spontaneous question answering. Yet, absolute differences are small and overlap is marked. To use these results as a basis for selective teaching seems inadvisable. The operation of specific and peculiar factors within the mixed-ability class deserves urgent and careful scrutiny. We need to appraise teacher attitudes, to analyse the components of childrens' success, and to explore further the possibilities of using differentiated and individualised instruction techniques.


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University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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