ll classes are mixed ability                              everyone has something special to offer


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Mixed Ability
                                                                                         of achievable objec...
Safestart Dialogue                          student will have something to say and         them options to choose from. Th...
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Mixed Ability Adaptation

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Mixed Ability Adaptation

  1. 1. ll classes are mixed ability everyone has something special to offer A M A I N F E AT U R E classes. Sometimes, to the class. I have to help them all to particularly with adults, the progress together, and they have to level of the students may be learn how to value each other’s skills. It more or less homogenous, but in is an inclusive classroom.’ secondary schools most classes have a wide range of levels and abilities. A metaphor of a mixed ability class Developing a teaching approach to which works for me is to think of the deal with such diversity in one class class as a lift (elevator). Everyone needs seems to be an almost impossible to get into the lift to start with. Some demand. In this article I want to look students will run into the lift, some will Mixed Ability an ‘inclusive’ Jim Rose looks classroom at mixed ability teaching from a fresh angle, viewing the mixture of skills and have to be dragged in. Some students will travel right to the top of the positively at mixed ability abilities as a positive factor and building, some may stop at the third suggesting some appropriate teaching floor and some may only reach the first classes and suggests approaches. I then want to ask ‘What floor, but everyone will have travelled makes a successful mixed ability somewhere successfully. At the end of a some appropriate activity?’ and show some simple ways class, every student can leave the room to modify material to make it suitable feeling that they have been challenged teaching approaches. for a range of abilities. and that they have achieved something. What is mixed ability? Here are two possible answers to this question from a teacher’s point of view: ‘Students used to be split according to their abilities into ‘streams’. Now all the students are mixed together in one class. There are good students, average students, and bad students. I can’t teach three different levels at the same time so I aim the lessons at the average students. I can’t really challenge the good students and the bad students aren’t interested anyway, so they tend to get excluded.’ Addison Wesley Longman Here is a different way of viewing mixed ability: ‘The learners have different linguistic abilities but for different reasons. They have a range of non-linguistic skills so • ENGLISH TEACHING professional • 3
  2. 2. Mixed Ability of achievable objectives for many tasks. Many of these objectives will be small and immediate, like learning five new words, saying one sentence correctly or an ‘inclusive’ repeating an earlier exercise and getting it right. ● There will be time and space for classroom everyone to think. Students learn that they don’t need to think when the teacher asks a question because the most able students will answer. They Why are some students create a sense of failure and a feeling can be encouraged to note down the that the task of learning is too hard. As answer or put up their hands briefly ‘worse’ than others? teachers, we can be much more than when they know, without giving the It is very easy to label a student as educational bureaucrats - we can offer answer. This way, all students in the ‘good’ or ‘bad’ and then expect them to the chance of real educational and class will have the chance to think match the label ever after, but there are linguistic progress together, and we can about the question. a number of reasons why learners may make it fun too. be better or worse at English. Many of ● There will be opportunities for the reasons are temporary and can be regular assessment against a personal overcome. What are the characteristics of standard. For example, ‘I got 3 good mixed ability classes? sentences right last time and 5 right ● They have a different starting point. this time!’ is a great step forward. If Perhaps they learnt or did not learn The thought of having to develop a students are helped to measure English at primary school or completely new approach in order to themselves against their own personal kindergarten. deal with mixed ability teaching is achievements, all students, including understandably frightening. In practice, the stronger ones, can focus on ● They have had a very poor teacher. what is needed most is a change of improving their own performance and emphasis in the classroom to create the a value can be placed on the effort ● They have missed out on an context where all the learners feel they have made. Students in this class important stage of learning but have valuable and have the space and will have regular opportunities to find good skills in a different area. confidence to try. All these out how they are progressing. What is needed most is ● The syllabus will be planned to allow a different rate of progress a change of emphasis within each lesson, so that students can work at the best speed for them. However, the general pace of the ● They have been labelled as ‘bad at characteristics share a common feature syllabus will be the same for all English’ and now they believe it, so - they aim to make the classroom students - they can all feel that they why bother? They are bored and inclusive for all students: are learning together. The more able demoralised. students will learn more vocabulary ● There is a sense of discipline and and engage in more challenging ● They are less mature than other shared purpose in the class. The practice. students or lack confidence to get students have learned to work together involved. and to be self-directed for short periods. What makes a successful So, in fact, there are good reasons why a less able student may, potentially, ● Both linguistic and non-linguistic mixed ability activity? be a good language learner. It is this skills are valued and everyone can Activities need to be quick and easy to realisation that has undermined the old contribute even if the contributions are prepare and they need to take account idea of streaming where, once labelled, not linguistic. of the practicalities of teaching. a student got stuck. In the following activity, there is A mixed ability class should offer ● Students’ work and drawings are little extra preparation because it uses all the students in it an appropriate displayed on the wall or kept in a class one piece of material - a standard challenge to help them to progress in folder that is regularly reviewed. All the coursebook dialogue. Memorisation is their own terms. Unfortunately, we all students in the class will be involved the common starting point (to get all have to work within the bureaucracy of and each student will have something the students into the lift) while the education - exams, tests and so on - in appropriately challenging to work on. dialogue is a springboard for more other words in someone else’s terms. If challenging work (which will take classes operate a dividing line of ‘pass’ ● To provide a range of challenges for them to different storeys of the and ‘fail’ in everyday activities, it can different abilities, there will be a range building). 4 • ENGLISH TEACHING professional •
  3. 3. Safestart Dialogue student will have something to say and them options to choose from. This will be able to participate in the activity. reduces the amount of information they Addison Wesley Longman The better students will be able to have to listen for. communicate more. Similarly, questions for a reading This activity has several features that text can offer options: make it suitable for mixed ability teaching: Why doesn’t Vinnie like Malek? ● The starting points are the same for all Malek’s new at the the students - predicting the context in school. He can’t play their own language, then memorising. ● The starting points don’t depend upon football. He’s got long previous linguistic knowledge. Other hair. non-linguistic starting points might be: using music, drawing or painting, Who wins the race? miming, generating ideas or sharing Is it Pat, Vinnie or Malek? world knowledge in their own Malek. language. ● Both linguistic and non-linguistic skills are integral to the success of the Students can learn to decide for activity. themselves which level of task they Karini: Who’s that? ● There is more than one objective - want to do. At first they may choose Helen: My mum. She’s a teacher. memorisation, drawing, a simple inappropriately (but remember that a Karini: Is that your father? controlled dialogue, a dialogue single objective activity is already Helen: Yes. He’s an architect. departing further from the memorised inappropriate for many students). And that’s my sister. model. After a while they will start to She’s called Theresa. Every conversation in this activity, choose the level which challenges them Karini: How old is she? however fluent or halting it may be, is a best because it is boring doing tasks Helen: She’s twenty-two. success because students are asking and that are too easy or too challenging all She’s a student. answering something real about their the time. families. Each student has a different The teacher writes the dialogue on learning profile too, so a student may, the board and establishes the context for example, choose an easier task for a from the picture. If this part of the How to modify tasks grammar exercise because s/he lesson is conducted in the students’ own Most tasks can be modified simply to recognises where her/his strengths and language then all students can provide a non-linguistic objective by weaknesses lie. participate. adding an element of discussion in their The students take the parts of Helen own language or incorporating maths, and Karini and say the dialogue in pairs. drawing a diagram, or a performance Small successes They do it again, and again. Each task and so on. Two or three levels of There is a simple idea behind all this: time, the teacher erases a few more linguistic difficulty can also be added by just as learners need achievable words until the students can repeat the providing steps or stages to make them objectives and plenty of small successes dialogue from memory. easier. to stay motivated, so do teachers. If we Now the students draw a picture of For example, in the following think that we have to retrain three or four people in their real listening task, the students have to write completely or spend every evening families. the names of the rooms corresponding preparing new materials to cope with The students then talk about their to the letters on the plan of the ship. In mixed ability classes, then only pictures using the questions and answers the box below, however, the task is made seriously dedicated teachers will do so, they have memorised as a basis. Every easier for weaker students by giving and then not always. In fact, we can start taking the small but significant Listen and circle the names of the rooms steps towards an inclusive classroom TV room p now. E T kitchen shop TV room shop classroom Jim Rose lived and taught in Nigeria and Brazil, before becoming Director of Studies for Teacher Training at International Addison Wesley Longman House London. He has lectured at Lancaster University and he now writes for Longman. He computer room classroom computer room has just co-authored a lower secondary course classroom café café book with Steve Elsworth called Go! • ENGLISH TEACHING professional • 5

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