Promoting Success of Multilevel ESL Classes: What Teachers and Administrators Can Do

J. Mathews-Aydinli
R. Van Horne
Author(s) Organizational Affiliation
Center for Adult English Language Acquisition (CAELA)
Publication Year
Resource Type
Number of Pages

This resource provides an introduction to the context and challenges of teaching multilevel classes. It offers research-based instructional strategies for teachers and ways in which administrators can support teachers working in this setting. While the authors identify benefits of working with multilevel classes they also highlight the significant challenges that come with teaching a diversity of levels. In the first part of the brief, they address considerations and possibilities for grouping students and provide instructional strategies that have been found to be successful for multilevel classes. Particular strategies are described and examples of how they might be used in the classroom are given. The second part of this brief focuses on the role administrators can play in helping teachers manage the complexities of multilevel classes. Each suggestion is described and accompanied by a rationale. This short piece provides an excellent overview and introduction to steps that can be taken to make a program offering multilevel classes more effective and successful.

What the experts say

Managing multilevel classes is the most enduring and perplexing issue in adult ESL. The topic comes up time after time when teachers are surveyed about professional development needs. This resource would be extremely useful to the field of adult education in that it addresses strategies for working with multilevel adult ESL learners at both the classroom and program level. There are many resources that describe instructional strategies to use with multilevel groups; this resource is unique in that it places equal emphasis on program design, staffing, communication with students, and professional development. All of these factors, the authors convincingly state, are needed to facilitate success in a multilevel environment. The strategies described are practical and based on evidence from studies of adult ESL learners, including the acclaimed “What Works” study (Condelli, Wrigley, Yoon, Cronen, & Seburn, 2003).   Some realities of the field today are not adequately taken into account as they relate to the subject of multilevel classes such as the presence of elderly learners, illiterate learners, standardized tests and the NRS, the focus on transition, technology.

Useful Features

  • The importance of the administrator role in program planning is addressed in one section. It spells out specific steps an administrator may take to support the framework of a multilevel ESL program and addresses instruction, professional development, facilities, communication and resources. Administrators, often overlooked in the literature, will be grateful for the recognition of their role.
  • The brief offers some sound advice for communicating with learners participating in a multilevel environment. It considers those who may be resistant to this kind of setting  and those who choose to remain in the program.
  • Administrators will find valuable recommendations for ways to support teachers and thereby improve the quality of multilevel programs.
  • Both groups would benefit from the discussion of factors to consider when organizing classes or groups of students within classes.