What we call mixed ability classes or heterogeneous classes are classes within which students have different levels of ability and proficiency. As a teacher, our aim is to unlock all of our students’ potential. However, every student has a different way of learning, and learns and progresses at different pace. Moreover, although it is quite tough for us to know about each student and to follow what each one has performed during the lessons, it is our role to monitor each and every individual and to reach their needs.
Students will differ in many ways in terms of learning ways, strengths and weaknesses. They will be different because of their age, gender, learning styles, language skills, motivation, cultural background etc. My article here aims at showing the advantages and problems that can be met with mixed ability classes. We all are confronted to mixed ability classes but if we view the positive things about it and try to implement strategies and techniques to teach our mixed groups then it can become a considerably better experience.
Dealing with mixed ability classes is not always easy. Some students will have finished an activity while others will just have started it, most able students will tend to dominate while weaker students will sit at the back and get distracted, and able ones will get bored quickly if their mind is not challenged enough. And as for material, textbooks are mostly designed for ideal homogeneous groups, which does not reflect the reality of teaching. These are just some of the few examples of problems teachers can come across when teaching mixed ability classes.
Here are the questions we should ask when teaching mixed ability classes:
- How can we find ways to control a class with mixed ability students to avoid chaos?
- How do we find content and activities that will suit our learners in terms of motivation?
- How can we personalize learning and manage time in a class where there are many different learners?
- How can we monitor effectively our learners’ progress?
- How can we make sure that our students get equal learning opportunities?
However there are all also great benefits when teaching mixed ability groups. The first advantage I would say is that we have a rich group consisting of varied experiences, opinions and interests and that makes our teaching practice even more interesting. Mixed ability groups generate more collaborative, creative and innovative projects. It also helps us as teachers to change our habits and grow professionally by experimenting new teaching strategies. With mixed groups our learners’ autonomy is also enhanced and students develop more social skills.
So even if your classes do not seem the ideal perfect classes with a high level of proficiency, keep in mind that you have individuals in front of you who are capable of bringing a lot to your teaching practice and who are expecting you to find the ways to unlock their potential.