Teaching mixed ability classes. Some Tips
One of my previous articles dealt with the advantages and problems we have with mixed ability groups. Here are some ideas you may want to implement in your classes with these groups.
First of all your own attitude towards your class will make a big difference. If your learners feel that they are part of a safe, supportive and positive environment their attitude is more likely to be positive in class. You can’t expect a group of people to be engaged in activities if you are not yourself completely convinced about the purpose of these activities.
The second important thing is to be extremely organized. You should have a lesson plan highlighting the different activities and time and you should also have all your resources ready to use.
In terms of behavior management it is important to know your students well to identify their strengths, weaknesses, know if they have any learning disabilities, know about their interests etc. This first step is crucial to ensure that your students will be involved as much as possible in the lessons. When you are clear about their needs, you can start pairing them up or grouping them according to their learning styles for example.
To personalize learning try to have a whole range of activities and topics that will challenge kinesthetic, visual and auditory learners. Instead of using your workbook, which may even be outdated, be creative and have also your students to create their own activities. For example instead of using the survey that you have in your workbook, why don’t you ask students to create their own? Students should have their word to say in their learning and if they have some ideas to bring more interesting materials to the lessons that should be used! When we teach mixed ability classes we need to be extremely flexible and ready to adapt our planning. Of course we have a syllabus to follow but there are millions of ways to adapt it for our learners and to make it more relevant for them. If you are not sure on how to adapt the workbook have a look on the multitude of resources available online. You may want to incorporate a word search at the beginning of your lesson to warm your students up; you may want to include some PowerPoint activities, a group project, some online games, interviews etc. The possibilities are limitless and if you have a range of activities and topics you will be more likely to motivate them.
Try also to personalize the learning by providing your students with targets to achieve. You should have a common goal for your whole group but it doesn’t mean that you can’t be more specific in the targets you want each of them to reach. Make sure you turn the target setting into a habit so that your students can feel responsible for their own learning. Setting and reviewing targets every day will give your students some kind of autonomy and responsibility for their learning. It may seem time consuming and it’s true that at start target setting and target reviewing can be tricky but if you teach your students how to do it and if you encourage their parents to check these targets on a regular basis that should be fruitful. Remember that we are teaching students to become independent learners so instead of spoon-feeding them give your students a sense of responsibility. Through the use of targets you should be able to monitor their progress efficiently.
Dealing with mixed groups also means dealing with different pace. A lesson shouldn’t be either too slow or too quick as it may lead to frustration or boredom. Thepace should be varied and you should be aware of the fact that some students will need more time to complete an activity. That is not a problem as long as you have some extension ready for the ones who are quick. This extension shouldn’t be however a mere repetition of the activity but rather a different activity that will challenge their minds and where they will need to gather their knowledge. By using this method then you should be able to manage time more efficiently and challenge everyone.
The collaborative aspect in teaching mixed ability groups is also an important feature that shouldn’t be underestimated. You should try to vary the groups often to avoid boredom or frustration and so that students get different opportunities of learning.