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Teaching Classes of Mixed Abilities When individuals are grouped together,
When individuals are grouped together, especially in a learning environment, there will always be a mixture of abilities. A 'homogeneous classroom' does not exist. For this reason, it is essential, as a teacher, to be prepared to address a class full off different levels and abilities from start to finish.
According to Gareth Rees, it is important to address this situation from the first day of class. He suggests having an open class discussion to put it out in the open which I believe makes for a more comfortable classroom. It is important to stage and structure the discussion by asking certain questions such as; would you rather sit and listen or actively participate' Rees calls this a 'Needs Analysis.' Comparing answers you, as a teacher, can have a better idea of how to go about teaching the class for the remainder of the year. One problem with this is it may not work for beginners.
After a couple of days simply getting to know the class, without addressing the discrepancies in the classroom, an instructor will get a good idea of who the weaker and stronger students are. It is important from the start to treat each student equally; making sure each receives an equal opportunity to participate, which will also help the instructor get a better idea of each student's ability.
After obtaining a good idea of the dynamic of one's classroom, there are ways to please each student, regardless of his or her ability. Another suggestion Gareth Rees makes which seems simple and effective, is a specially tailored reading lesson for mixed ability classes. Have each student read the same text and when they are finished have stronger students do detailed dictionary work on the vocabulary in the text while the teacher can monitor the weaker students with whatever problems they may have had with the text. This allows the stronger students to enhance their vocabulary and prevents them from feeling 'held back' and it gives the weaker students to get more intensive aid from the teacher, while each reading the same text.
Another useful technique to get each student working at his or her ability is in the effective use of homework. Like the aforementioned 'technique' homework can give the weaker students the chance to further practice things they do not understand from the lesson and give the stronger students a chance to really challenge themselves.
One teaching practice TEFL International employs is always having the class work in pairs. This can be very helpful in a mixed- ability class because the teacher can pair up stronger students with weaker students. The stronger student really has their knowledge tested in this scenario because they are forced to explain the material and obviously the weaker student benefits in having difficulties explained to them by a peer which may be more comfortable for them and is more intimate.
Another similar TEFL International teaching practice which is very useful for classes with mixed abilities is the use of working in groups. As TEFL International calls it, the Activate Activity, it gives the chance to use the language in a more relaxed environment. This allows each student regardless of their ability to participate in the same activity but tailored to their respective level. Another positive about working in groups Gareth Rees points out is it fosters a positive working environment.
All in all it is almost impossible to avoid teaching a class with different abilities as we all are unique and have different abilities and goals. This can make teaching a bit more difficult but it also keeps you on your toes and teaches you to be more prepared for possible problems in a lesson.
Rees, Gareth. Teaching mixed-ability classes 2. BBC World Service. 1 Oct 2006 www.teachingenglish.org.uk/think/methodology/mixed_ability2.shtml.
Rees, Gareth. Teaching mixed-ability classes 1. BBC World Service. 1 Oct 2006 www.teachingenglish.org.uk/think/methodology/mixed_ability1.shtml.