Teaching Mixed Ability Classes - How Can We Teach More Of Our Students More Of The Time?

To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln (via Penny Ur),

You can teach some of the students all of the time, or all of the students some of the time. But you can’t teach all of the students all of the time.

Why not? Because most classes are mixed level. Some students learn faster than others, some write better than others, some are quieter than others. So the question we need to ask ourselves is…

How can we teach more of our students more of the time?

We can teach more of our students more of the time by making our mixed level classes “MIXED” (by using Materials, Instructions, eXpectations, Evaluation, Discipline).


M is for Materials.

Give different materials to different students. If it’s a reading passage, make a simplified version for students with lower reading proficiency and a harder version for the strong readers. If it’s a listening activity, give different questions to different groups of students. Challenge everyone at their own level.


I is for Instructions.

Give open ended instructions. Instead of “Answer the questions on page 57” say “Answer at least five questions on page 57” or “Answer as many of the questions as you can in five minutes”. Everyone feels like they finished even though everyone answered a different number of questions.


X is for Expectations.

To take the instructions principal one stage further, set different expectations for different students. To make a writing activity more challenging, give the strongest students a higher word count. To make a speaking activity harder, give top students a list of ‘banned’ words. To make a writing activity easier, give the weaker students a word bank.


E is for Evaluation.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of concentrating correction on less able students and heaping praise on the stars of the class. Don’t. Instead, make sure everyone gets praised for what they did well and everyone gets their fair share of developmental feedback.


D is for Discipline.

Behavior management is especially important in mixed ability classes. Stronger students get bored because they’re not challenged. Weaker students get frustrated and misbehave. Using the other techniques here will reduce boredom and frustration, but good discipline is still important.


If you use the MIXED principles above you still won’t be able to teach all of the students all of the time, but you can teach more of the students more of the time.


Image from Pixabay