The debate between streaming and mixed-ability is not new. Whilst streaming proved popular in the 1960s, mixed-ability teaching made a brief comeback in the 1970s and is ever present today. Whichever side you are on, chances are, you will teach a mixed-ability class at least once during your teaching career.
Here are five steps to ensure successful mixed-ability teaching!
1. Make use of your more able pupils
A proven strategy to help pupils remember content is to teach it to their peers. Have your stronger pupils sit with the weaker pupils and teach them during group tasks.
Encourage them to assess each other and ask questions. Not only does this give them a sense of independence, it relieves some pressure off the teacher, allowing them to circulate and target the weaker pupils.
2. Make a teaching resource that fits all
Making differentiated resources every lesson is time-consuming, so make one that can be utilised by all pupils. Start with accessible tasks that all pupils must complete, and then provide some challenge tasks that can be attempted by all, but are compulsory for stronger pupils.
This gives all pupils a feeling of accomplishment and challenge.
3. Focus on depth not breadth
Whilst the new GCSE specifications are extremely content heavy, it is important to explore topics with greater depth.
Challenge pupils to evaluate and analyse what they have learnt, as opposed to simply understanding it (Bloom's taxonomy). This encourages pupils to think more abstractly and makes for interesting classroom discussion.
4. Don't forget the middle ability students
Try and write down a whole class from memory. It is easy to identify your stronger and weaker pupils in the classroom, but it sometimes means the average students get left behind.
Shower them with genuine praise, recommend a book, ask them questions - make sure that no pupil gets overlooked in the classroom. Make your class truly inclusive.
5. Embrace it!
Having pupils of all abilities in a classroom has its advantages. There is opportunity to discuss and listen to others' diverse perspectives, so pupils won't produce identical essays.
Marking becomes more entertaining.You will be surprised by the range of interpretations from pupils, and this makes for interesting marking-feedback lessons.
Although streaming makes for easier lesson planning, mixed-ability classes have a quality of their own.
Embrace the range of abilities, embrace the diversity of interpretations, embrace the challenges.
About our Community Expert
Over 5 years of experience in educational settings throughout London, Madrid and Barcelona. Whilst studying English Literature and Language at King’s College London and the University of North Carolina, she fell in love with her subject - both the study of literature and craft of writing.
After graduating, she completed the Leadership Development Programme with Teach First, whose mission is to provide equality through education, and attained her PGCE in Secondary English at Canterbury Christ Church University. She was then appointed as Deputy Head of English at one of the highest performing schools in England in a London inner-city academy.
Following this, she completed her Leadership and Management MA at University College London (Institute of Education) and became the director of an English Language company based in Barcelona.
Simi is our English Literature and Language Expert.