Teaching Classes Of Mixed Ability Students Teaching students with mixed ability

Teaching students with mixed ability can pose a unique set of challenges. Diversity in language, culture, confidence and ability can all come into play for teachers in the classroom (4). Working with students, sending them down different paths in order to arrive at a similar goal can be one of the most challenging things for teachers of all backgrounds (2). However with patience, respect and hard work all the seemingly grand problems can be overcome to the benefit of all. As such, it is my intention to present a brief, basic summary of what I believe to be a sound starting methodology for approaching classes with students of mixed abilities.

As a first step in managing the diversity of student ability in the classroom, there needs to be an analysis of the needs of the students. With this analysis the teacher will gain much ground in the effort to determine and support the needs of every student. This analysis will provide an opportunity for the students to reflect on their ability and style and prepare them for the fact that the class will not be managed in the traditional manner. While this action seems to add work for the instructor on the front end of things I think we can easily liken it to the old adage ‘an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’ (1).

Upon determination of the individual student needs the teacher can strive to coordinate the students into functional learning groups based on their skills and learning pace. The construction of focus groups allows the instructor to proactively increase the effectiveness of the lesson plan and provide realistic and achievable assignments to the students. The groups can work together based on their skill level or at time the instructor can intermingle the weaker with the advanced, which will also contribute to creating variety in the class (1,4). This method allows for all students to advance toward a mutual goal at an appropriate pace for their capacity and avoids putting them off with material that is outside of their aptitude.

Provided the instructor has established focus groups based on ability or learning pace the next step is to consider the curriculum to be utilized. The instructor should amass a collection of authentic and prepared materials that can be used with varying requirements for the class. These materials can be utilized in the classroom to provide different tasks for the unique skill levels so as to achieve conformity in the exercise, while utilizing realistic expectations of what can be accomplished based on individual groups. To this end the instructor can include several different versions of the same homework task in order to align with achievement levels and maximize the benefit to all the students (3).

Ultimately in this very limited summary I feel that we need to consider the psychology of the students, the effects of this methodology on them and how to work to benefit each and every student. If caution is not taken to include all students fully the weaker students will potentially not achieve and consequently experience the natural reaction of avoiding the activities they are not successful in (5). Because of this reaction the achievement gap will only be widened rather than narrowed. To this end, instructors must make an effort to make the classes inclusive while differentiating in order to ensure student achievement across the board and not just with the better performing students.

While there are so many different facets to managing a class of students with mixed abilities, by taking some basic measures teachers can manage the challenge effectively for the benefit of all. You can be certain that I have only begun to scratch the surface of the issues faced by teachers of classes with mixed ability students, but I hope I have provided some basic building blocks for individual instructors to start with. As instructors we have the responsibility to show respect and provide reasonable attention to all students and I feel strongly that utilizing the previously stated methodology is a start down a path to achieve such ends.


1. http://www.teachingenglish.org.uk/think/methodology/mixed_abi lity.shtml




5. http://www.projecttrust.org.uk/teaching/sectefl/mixedability. htm