Tend to behave poorly

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Chapter I: Introduction

Problem Statement

The problem is mixed-ability students currently enrolled at Exhibit English Academy do poorly on tests, tend to behave poorly, and have a difficult time after leveling up into the next year of schooling.


The purpose of this study is to determine if placing students in classrooms by ability grouping is beneficial for EFL students.

Description of Community

1. The community is in the northwest of South Korea. The community is normal for many areas similar to it throughout South Korea.

  • A plethora of apartment complexes surround the area, so children of all ages and ability live readily within walking distance of the many schools within the community.
  • Businesses abound in the immediate area of all apartment complexes including small shops to large department stores.
  • Many private academies are opened in buildings that also have restaurants, bars, car dealerships, boutiques, banks, real estate agencies, and many other businesses.

2. The community has experienced some growth in population since 2001 and the school district has grown slightly as well, yet noted is a drop in total students. A plausible explanation for the decrease in student population is Korea's aging population. According to the National Statistical Office the number of citizens who are 65 years or older was 5.10 million as of July 2008, which accounted for 10.3% of Korea's 48 million people (Korea Times, 2008).

  • The population in 2001 was approximately 594,000, increasing to approximately 630,000 (6500 foreigners - not ethnically Korean) as of a population consensus taken in 2007 (Anyang City, 2008).
  • The public school district has approximately 178 schools; 40 elementary, 20 middle, and seven high. The rest of the schools are either privately owned public schools, kindergartens, or universities (Anyang City, 2008).
  • The aforementioned numbers are from 2008, and are up slightly from 2001 when elementary schools numbered 34, middle schools numbered 16 and high schools numbered four (Anyang City, 2008).
  • As of the consensus in 2008 the student population was approximately 149,000, down from 154,000 in 2001 (Anyang City, 2008).
  • Teachers have also increased from 4800 in 2001 to 6300 in 2008 (Anyang City, 2008) when the website last updated.

3. No existing data could be found concerning the number of private institutions that serve the area. Even an approximation would be a guesstimate at best, but the number is surely near 1000 (Personal Communication, n.d.). However, private institutions are very important to Korean Education; especially institutes that focus on English.

  • The Korean language is systematically and grammatically different from the English language and often not easily grasped; and though English is taught in public schools starting in the third grade, the English taught is essentially inefficient for any student wishing to become even semi-fluent (Wikipedia, 2009).
  • Because of the importance of learning the English language, many Korean parents send their children to after-school private educational institutes known as hagwons. Nearly every hagwon employs at least one foreigner, if not many foreigners (Wikipedia, 2009).
  • The core subjects taught at hagwons are English and math and the time spent in hagwons for students almost constitutes a second round of school for many students each day. Though other subjects are also taught, the subjects most stressed are English and math. Some hagwons teach multiple subjects and often enough parents put more stress on academic achievement in hagwons than on public school grades (Wikipedia, 2009); even though the grades received in hagwons mean nothing to any school of higher education, or any future employer.
  • Students, depending on age, usually arrive home after attending hagwons anywhere from 5:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. (Wikipedia, 2009).

Description of Work Setting

1. The research project will take place at one of the hagwons in South Korea specializing in English, but at which Korean history and math are also taught. The institute is a private after-school facility for elementary students from grades one to six. The institute is one in which parents must pay for their children to attend.

  • The students are all ethnically Korean; approximately 150 students attend the institution (Personal Communication, n.d.).
  • Students range from grade one in elementary school to grade six in elementary school (Personal Communication, n.d.).
  • Though the parents have to pay to attend the school, the students are not all economically similar. Some parents can only afford to have one child (usually the eldest) attend the academy whereas other families can afford to send multiple siblings (Personal Communication, n.d.).

2. The institute puts students in class by age and grade

  • Due to Korea's hierarchy of age, students in all public schools are placed in class by age. Every student starts grade one at the age of eight, and students' grades can be recognized easily simply by asking how old a student is. No student fails, so students pass up to the next grade regardless of knowing the material taught, and regardless of academic achievement. The results of this practice often lead to classes of students learning the same material who are of very different learning levels (Wikipedia, 2009).
  • Private institutions however, generally do not adhere to such a practice because attendance requires payment, and parents want their children to be in the best class for their children's ability (Personal Communication, n.d.). Yet despite the benefit of institutions choosing to level students by ability, some academies choose not to, and the academy for this research paper chooses not to level by ability.

3. The implementation and derived data for this study comes from observations taken from students who currently attend the school.

  • Three classes will serve as participants for the research undertaken for this research project.
  • Two classes will be streamed by ability via a level test and instructors' knowledge of the students. One class is group of grade six students, and the other class is a group of grade five students.
  • One class, the grade four students, will be taught its regular curriculum and not streamed simply to add data to the outcome to determine if ability grouping is beneficial for students.

Writer's Role

  1. The writer holds a B.A. in English.
  2. The writer has been teaching EFL students from kindergarten to adults for more than nine years at present.
  3. The writer's role at the institution is the head foreign teacher, a position the writer has held at a four different institutes since 2002.
  • The writer is responsible for choosing the English curriculum from which each English class learns from.
  • The writer creates all tests and material as original copies unless provided material exists within the textbooks chosen.
  • The writer regularly meets with the other English teachers from the institute for constant feedback on how students are adapting to the material.
  • The writer regularly consults with colleagues from other institutions who hold M.A. and doctorate degrees within the field of EFL for advice and dialogue regarding EFL students and teaching practices.

Chapter II: Study of the Problem

Problem Description

The problem is mixed-ability students currently enrolled at Exhibit English Academy do poorly on tests, tend to behave poorly, and have a difficult time after leveling up into the next year of schooling.

  1. Mixed-ability students struggle with current material and curriculum.
  2. Mixed-ability students have trouble performing at the standard level once leveling up.
  3. Behavior in class suffers.
  4. Test grades are affected.

Problem Documentation

  1. Ten of the 22 students (45%) in one 4th grade class are at a lower level, and show constant disinterest whereas seven students (31%) are at a high level, but also show signs of disinterest when the class is slowed down for the lower leveled students. Five students (22%) are neither high nor low leveled.
  2. Eight of the 20 students (40%) in one 5th grade class are at a lower level and show constant disinterest whereas five students (25%) are at a high level, but also show signs of disinterest when the class is slowed down for the lower leveled students. Seven students (35%) are neither high nor low leveled.
  3. Eight of the 19 students (42%) in one 6th grade class are at a lower level and show constant disinterest whereas seven students (37%) area at high level, but also show signs of disinterest when the class is slowed down for the lower leveled students. Four students (21%) are neither high nor low leveled.
  4. Of the lower leveled students documented, 18 (29%), are completely failing, and the remaining eight students (13%) are currently receiving the lowest possible passing grade.
  5. The higher leveled students generally receive grades in the low 90s (A-) and above and the students who are neither high nor low leveled achieve grades ranging from high 70s (C+) to middle 80s (B).

Literature Review

The practice of mixed-ability grouping has its demerits among students whose first language is not English.

  1. Some studies are quick to inform the disadvantages learners whose first language is not English are susceptible to in mixed-ability classes and further point out graduation as a difficult goal to obtain for many; as states University of Calgary professor Hetty Roessingh, "For every one of the ESL kids who makes it, there are hundreds who don't" (Duffy, 2004 para. 1). Roessingh further mentioned students whose first language is not English who attend school from other countries and who are beginners in English are the most likely (93%) to drop out of school; as the students have a very difficult time comprehending the English language and become confused by the complicated language found in textbooks (Duffy, 2004). The students simply find the process of translating their academic ability from their native language into decent marks on written tests taken in English (Duffy, 2004).
  2. Studies suggest students whose first language is not English have a difficult time in class with others of varying levels. These students need more personal attention in class from the teacher, take a longer time to finish tests and learning tasks, are often truant or late, and delay submitting assignments and homework if submitted at all (Hsu & Sheu, 2008).
  3. Critics of grouping students by ability continually attempt to eliminate the practice, yet are finding doing so is not as easy as doing so in theory. By joining students of all abilities in the same class, one lecture-oriented class cannot facilitate the needs of all students (Editorial Projects, 2004).

Mixed ability classes hinder highly skilled students.

  1. Gessner (2008) mentioned highly able students suffer particularly harmful effects when ability grouping is abandoned; as they are the same students who excelled in advanced and accelerated classes before the existence of tracking.
  2. White (2009) met with retired teachers and was happy to learn they thought doing away with ability-grouping simply a hot topic that was tried before, and which failed. The teachers assured her schools would return to ability grouping once mixed ability classes receive poor reviews. However, she made an excellent point referring to high level students presently enrolled in classes stating, "The cure for cancer may be in one of those remarkable heads. Do we really want that student waiting for the rest of the class to grasp fundamentals before he is challenged to acquire new knowledge and insights? (White, 2009, para. 6.)
  3. A study by Adams-Beyer, Whitsell and Moon (2004) showed data reading the comments from higher leveled students toward mixed-ability classes. Of the 75% of those who posted negative comments, the students mentioned mixed ability classes offered less of a challenge, a much slower pace, and too much repetition; all which facilitated boredom.

Mixed ability classes hinder students at a lower level.

  1. Hsu and Sheu (2008) showed in their study of mixed ability classrooms students at a lower level than others tended to be more passive and became frustrated with the learning process. Hsu and Sheu (2008) further noted students who were unsuccessful with the language and at a lower level had almost no motivation to help them forge forward and keep learning.
  2. Mixed-ability classrooms create potential conditions of stigmatizing readers who struggle; as struggling readers noted in mixed-ability classes the teacher chose them to read less and interrupted them more often than their higher leveled classmates. The data and analysis implies mixed-ability classes possibly disfavors low-ability or struggling readers (Poole, 2008).
  3. One such low-ability reader interviewed by Hopkins (2004) experienced the results of Poole's findings earlier than the study itself. The student explained she was a below average reader in elementary school and was constantly left behind and felt humiliated by her teacher. Saying the teacher did not attempt to help her in any way; and she wished the teacher provided a way to help her go to a group of like reading ability students. The experience left the student with nothing but bad memories of elementary school.

Causative Analysis

A number of causes contribute to mixed-ability students doing poorly on tests, behaving poorly, and have a difficult time after leveling up into the next year of schooling.

1. Mixed-ability students struggle with material and curriculum.

  • The material appears to be either too hard for lower leveled students or too easy for higher leveled students.
  • Higher leveled students often go ahead in material whereas lower leveled students struggle to complete in-class assignments and homework. Thus the conclusion is drawn the higher leveled students appear bored with the material whereas the lower leveled students simply appear frustrated with the material.
  • The intended curriculum is for higher level students with the hope the lower leveled students will eventually catch up.

2. Mixed-ability students have trouble performing at the standard level once leveling up.

  • Once in a higher leveled class, lower ability students fall farther behind their stronger peers than in the previous grade.
  • Higher level students bore easily if not challenged by the material.
  • Frustration mounts for both all levels of ability and eventually the frustration leads to students dropping out of the school or wanting to drop out of the school and look for another private school in the area more suited for the student's level.

3. Behavior in class suffers.

  • Students of higher ability appear to talk more with their peers more after finishing an in-class assignment well before other students due to failing to be academically engaged enough to hold interest.
  • Lower leveled students do not have the time in class to finish assignments in the time allotted, and when given as homework, the material appears rarely completed. Lack of understanding of the instructions and poor working knowledge of the skills needed to complete the assignment seem to be the contributing factors.

4. Test grades are affected.

  • Lower leveled appear to disinterested when testing time occurs because they believe they will do poorly no matter how long they study, so they simply do not bother to put in any effort.
  • Higher leveled students achieve excellent grades, but appear to find in class assignments or homework sometimes challenging and then feel frustrated. The frustration seems to stem from feeling they did very well on tests but not knowing the material as well because the intended tests are with all students in mind, not only the higher leveled students.

  • Test scores appear skewed for all levels. The higher leveled students' scores appear higher in general than they should be, and the lower leveled students' scores appear lower than they should be.


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  • Anyang City. (2008). Retrieved December 28, 2009, from http://www.anyang.go.kr
  • Duffy, A. (2004,October23). Why are ESL students being left behind? Series: Failing our immigrants: [Final Edition].The Ottawa Citizen, p.E16. Retrieved December 24, 2009, from Canadian Newsstand Core. (Document ID:726513361).
  • Editorial Projects in Education (September, 2004.). Retrieved December 25, 2009 from, http://www.edweek.org/rc/issues/tracking/
  • Gessner, S. (2008, January 23). The Gifted Express, Now Leaving on Track 1. Education Week, p. 28. Retrieved December 25, 2009, from Education Research Complete database.
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  • Hsu, L., & Sheu, C-M. (2008). Electronic Journal of Foreign Language Teaching2008, Vol. 5, No. 2, pp. 240-264 © Centre for Language Studies National University of Singapore. Retrieved December 23, 2009, from http://e-flt.nus.edu.sg/v5n22008/hsu.htm#2.1_Unsuccessful_English_learners_
  • Korea Times. (2008). Rapidly aging society. Retrieved December 28, 2009, from http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/opinon/2008/10/167_32059.html
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  • White, G., D. (2009,December2). Advocate's editorial was wrong on the issue of ability grouping.Advocate, A.17. Retrieved December 27, 2009, from Advocate. (Document ID:1917919111).
  • Wikipedia. (2009). Education in South Korea. Retrieved December 28, 2009, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_South_Korea