How to Teach Mixed Ability Classes

Mixed Ability Classes

What are Mixed Ability Classes?

You are probably familiar with terms such as mixed ability classes since most teachers have to deal with that from time to time.

Mixed ability as used in languages classes usually refers to the differences that exist in a group in terms of different levels of language proficiency.

What Levels of Language Proficiency are there?

Language proficiency refers to how well an individual has mastered a language.

There are six levels of language proficiency according the Common European Framework of References for Languages (CEFR)

A1Basic
A2Basic
B1Independent
B2Independent
C1Proficient
C2Proficient

My Experience with Mixed Ability Classes

Mixed level classes create a lot of challenges for teachers,

I taught oral communication classes for so many years and it was frustrating to see people who were true beginners and people who were advanced language learners sharing the same class.

You are torn between helping the ones who are struggling or helping independent learners to reach their linguistic goals.

Problems with Mixed Ability Classes

Almost all classes are mixed ability classes and these are some of the problems that these types classes bring:

  • Not taking into consideration language proficiency levels undermines their importance.
  • Mixed level classes create frustration for teachers and students and create more problems than it pretend to solve.
  • One of the major problems for teachers is not knowing if they should move forward with the lesson patiently wait for the ones who are left behind.
  • Stronger students may feel held back, weaker students may feel pressured.
  • Teachers might feel stressed about teaching under these circumstances.
  • Material adaptations for learners with different levels is time consuming.
  • Student might feel offended if you are start giving differentiated tasks since they might perceived as weak while other perceive themselves as strong.

How to Manage Mixed Ability Classes

Mixed Ability Classes are not an easy problem to solve, and it would be wrong to suggest that there are any simple solutions.

Since mixed ability classes won’t go away anytime soon, these are some recommendations to deal with some of the most common problems.

  • Discussion of the situation with the group so everybody is aware of the situation to help prevent stigmatization.
  • Explanation of the approaches that you are going to use to mitigate the problem
  • Creation of extension tasks for fast finishers.
  • Putting learners of different levels together for controlled activities.
  • Putting learners of same levels together for freer activities.
  • Provide extra work or homework unless it is part of an standardized assessment procedure.
  • avoid putting weaker students on the spot by nominating to do something and encourage them to listen attentively.

In these cases it’s important to remember that all students will get something out of the class, but not necessarily the same things, and not necessarily what you aim to teach them! 

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