How can students work together while learning at different speeds and working at different paces? How can a teacher manage a class to ensure overall understanding, while giving everyone a chance to shine? Here is some guidance for teaching mixed ability classes:
Step 1: Know your students
Take time understanding their strengths and weaknesses beyond test scores. This will help you understand their personalities, their potential, their learning preferences and their skills.
Step 2: Differentiate tasks
The outcome needs to stay the same, but the tasks leading to it should be scaffolded according to the students’ learning potential. Here is an example from classroomsecrets.co.uk:
Step 3: Varied grouping
At times it’s important to group the strongest students together, but there are times when students should be grouped according to other criteria when teaching mixed ability classes. At times you want to help the struggling students by giving them extra support and push the stronger students higher. Other times, the idea is to encourage creativity, negotiation and collaboration. Think of shy students who might be able to speak at ease if put in a group, while others are really overwhelmed by groups and study better while working in pairs. An ideal balance can only be achieved if you master Step 1!
Step 4: Fast finishers
Make sure you have extra activities lined up for these students. You might also want to give them monitoring roles, so they can help weaker students accomplish their tasks. Here are some examples on how to deal with Fast Finishers versus weaker students:
- Ask students to write part of the text in a different tense.
- Ask them to write their opinion about the text.
- Ask them to write a list of new words and their meaning.
- Pre-teach difficult vocabulary and write the meaning on the board for further referencing
- Draw attention to the title and the book cover and elicit possible ideas about the story to facilitate understanding.
- Break text into chunks and give the option of reading just some of it if too difficult.
Step 5: Allow use of first language L1
Taking it further from Step 4, you’ll be surprised how easily students understand what they have to do when a peer speaking the same language explains it to them.
Give specific instructions to ensure that everyone gets a chance to participate. For example, take turns using the tablet/write 2 sentences each/submit one idea each/one go each, etc.
Step 7: Praise
Make sure students get acknowledged for a variety of reasons. At times, it can be for task accomplishment, other times, for individual progress compared to their own learning pace. Praise can also be on a particular skill, even if not the subject taught. For example, you notice a student with great drawing abilities while learning Geometry. Drawing in Geometry might not help you pass the test, but you might help the student focus on a future career path.
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