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TEFL Program - Working with Different Abilities and Learning Styles

Page history last edited by Chris Moore 12 years, 1 month ago

 

Teaching Mixed Ability and Mixed Level Classes

 

In this unit, we will look at mixed ability and mixed level classes; examine what difficulties this creates for a teacher; and suggest some ways of overcoming those difficulties.

 

 

Think About it

 

What is ‘mixed ability’?

 

Write down what this means for you:

 

 

 

 

 

Here are our thoughts:

 

Many teachers today believe that all classes are mixed ability in some ways. However, research has shown that it is mostly not a question of some students being ‘clever’ or ‘naturally better at languages’.

 

Your students will probably show differences in their levels of:

  • Attention/concentration
  • Interest
  • Motivation
  • Skills strengths – reading, writing, listening, speaking
  • Passive understanding
  • Learning styles
  • Types of intelligences
  • Physiological needs
  • Psychological needs
  • Speed
  • Maturity
  • World knowledge
  • Knowledge of and about English
  • Energy
  • Memory
  • Willingness to try things out
  • Anxiety about making mistakes
  • Shyness
  • Willingness to talk and contribute

 

Can you think of any other areas in which they differ?

 

As you can see, many of these differences are not just about English. Student personalities may also have a big impact, as well as their ways of thinking, and their lives and experience outside the classroom.

 

 

Mixed Ability and Level in your English Classes

 

1. Would you say there is a mix of abilities in your English classes?

 

 

2. If so, please write down what that mix looks like. What can the ‘most able’ do that the others can’t? How big is the difference?

 

 

3. Would you say there is a mix of levels in your English classes?

 

 

4. If so, please write down what that mix looks like. What can the higher level students do that the others can’t? How big is the difference?

 

 

The reality is that almost every teacher has a mix of one sort or another in their English classes. You are not alone!

 

We will now look at the potential difficulties that this creates, before going on to look at ways of working effectively with mixed ability and level classes.

 

 

What problems do mixed ability and level cause?

Please write down what difficulties you have in your lessons as a result of mixed ability/level classes:

 

 

 

 

 

Here are some suggestions from us:

 

  • Some students follow the lesson, answer questions and do well in tests; others fall behind, don’t seem to understand and do badly in tests.

 

  • Some students pay attention and are cooperative; others ‘misbehave’ and seem disinterested.

 

  • It's difficult to challenge the stronger students while giving support to those who are not doing as well.

 

  • It's hard to teach lessons at a level where all students can be engaged and learning.

 

 

 

How can you teach effectively in mixed ability/level classes?

 

What techniques have you used to teach mixed ability/level classes?

 

 

 

What has worked?

 

 

 

What hasn’t?

 

 

 

 

Our Suggestions

We believe that if you follow certain key principles, then you mixed ability and mixed elvel classes will be consistently more effective.

Here are 10 Key Principles

 

  1. Plan your lessons or activities to take into account student differences 
  2. Talk to the class. Explain that to have mixed levels is normal, and that the whole class will need to work together to learn together.  Stress the need for teamwork. 
  3. Use pair and group work, and make the stronger students the team leaders. Give them a clear reason for helping the others, and stress their positive role in lessons. 
  4. Tell students to speak to each other in English – this will be excellent practice for those who need practice, as well as a good challenge for stronger students. It will help ensure they don’t become bored. 
  5. Encourage ‘peer teaching’, where the students learn from each other. During pair and group work in particular, the weaker students can learn a lot from the stronger ones. 
  6. Use a variety of different activities. This will give different students a chance to shine at different points in the lessons. Some will be better at certain types of activities than others. Some students prefer learning with visual activities, some with listening, some through reading, and some through physical ‘doing’ activities. 
  7. Do open ended activities, such as discussions, story-telling, and dialogue-making. Here the results are not so important. It is the process by which the students complete a task that counts. By focusing on the process, all students can learn something without being measured as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. 
  8. Think about introducing a project, on which students can work together. This could be making a class newspaper or a guide to the local town, for example. 
  9. Ask the stronger students to answer the more difficult questions, and then ask the weaker students to repeat the answer. This will encourage them to listen attentively as well as improve their learning.
  10. Set different types of homework. Giving weaker students easier tasks can help to motivate them and to give them further practice in areas of the language which they have not yet mastered. Giving more challenging tasks to the stronger students in the group should ensure that they remain motivated and continue to make progress. It is more work for the teacher, but it should produce results.

 

Conclusion

 

So, remember, all classes are mixed in some ways - and not just in terms of 'cleverness' - and there are lots of ways of making mixed ability and level classes fun and effective.

 

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