5 Strategies of Teaching Mixed Ability Classroom
Although students may be in the same class, they may not necessarily have the same ability level. This can be seen in all classes; however, this can become very noticeable in a class designed to teach a language to someone who is not a native speaker. It is up to the teacher to notice these differences in ability levels and restructure their lessons accordingly. There are a few different strategies that will help with gaps in ability levels, which consist of the use of different materials, providing the same materials with a different task, paring weak and strong students together, and even doing nothing.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Brook S. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
1. Differentiate materials
The first strategy is to give different materials. For this strategy, the teacher will split the students into groups based on their ability levels. Although students may be given different materials, it is important that each set of materials is about the same topic as the other. For example, think about a class of 10 students who are learning about time. There are five weaker students and five stronger students. The stronger students will be given pictures of clocks with a specific time, including the seconds. They will be challenged to write the time in a more complex way. Meanwhile, the weaker students will simply have clocks that only have the hour and minute hands. This teaching style will allow the more advanced students to not get bored, while the weaker students will not be discouraged.
2. Differentiate tasks
The second strategy is to give the same materials with a different task. The students will be grouped the same as the previous strategy. However, with this strategy, let’s consider an activity in which students are looking at a comic strip of typical morning activities. Each group will receive the same comic strip. The stronger students will receive a list of questions containing ideas such as what, how, and why. The weaker students will receive a set of questions focusing on just what is happening in the comic strip. This strategy will also allow stronger students to be challenged, while weaker students will gain confidence.
3. Peer learning
The third strategy for gaps in ability levels is to pair weaker students with stronger students. It would be best to strategically pair one stronger student with one weaker student. For a class of 10 students, there would be five groups, each containing one strong and one weak student. It is important to consider personality to make sure that a strong student does not do all of the work. If paired correctly, the stronger students will motivate the weaker student to work harder and improve their skills. For this strategy, you could utilize a role-playing activity in which one student plays a store employee while the other plays a tourist trying to buy something.
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4. Do not differentiate
The final strategy is to do absolutely nothing. This strategy will allow students to assess everyone’s ability level and pace themselves accordingly. Every student in the class will receive the same materials and the same task. If utilized correctly, there should be no real gap in activity level. There is a significant risk that the activity may end up being too difficult for some and not challenging enough for others. An activity you could use with this strategy is a “Find someone who…” activity. Each student will have a handout of the same list, containing tasks such as “Find someone who likes the color blue” or “Find someone who doesn’t like pizza”. Students will ask their peers about the list until they’ve found someone for every task.
5. Change your approach
Strategies are proven to work. Sometimes all it takes is changing your approach to the students when you are explaining the directions of the task for improvement to be seen. This is something I have personally seen work in everyday life. Although I do not have in-class experience as a teacher, I do have a lot of experience teaching people things outside of the classroom. I grew up as an athlete. There were many times in my athletic career in which I was expected to teach the younger athletes and ones who were not as skilled as I was, how to do things the right way. Many of my teammates, who were at the same ability level as myself, would often get angry at the weaker ones when they were not understanding the directions for various skills.
For example, during our softball offseason, we did mat room drills, which was when groups of us would need to follow hand commands from our coach exactly, or we would have to punish. A group of the younger students kept messing up, but all my teammates did was yell at them. I quickly noticed that it was the nervousness and pressure of not failing their coach and upperclassmen that were getting in their heads, so I asked them all to stay after school with me. I calmly explained what each hand command meant. I stayed with them until each group of underclassmen understood the commands and could execute them perfectly. The next time we had mat room drills, there was an obvious increase in the underclassmen’s ability level. This goes to show how important it is to have a strategy when it comes to teaching people of differing ability levels.
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Trying to teach a classroom full of students can be hard enough as it is. A teacher’s job is only made harder when that class consists of students with different ability levels. It is super important that teachers notice these gaps inability to provide each student with the best opportunity to learn. One strategy may work for one lesson, while another strategy works better for another lesson. It is up to the teacher to assess the class and utilize a mix of these strategies. In doing so, students will get the most out of the class.
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