Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Teaching Multi-Ability Classes - Some Strategies

Throughout their career, most teachers will have classes of students with a wide range of learning abilities. This means they have to cater for all these students. They cannot use a 'one model fits all students' teaching pedagogue. This article looks at four different approaches to teaching most types of classes. An experienced teacher might use all four approaches, at different times, to get the best learning outcomes for each class.

The Simplest Approach:

Step 1:

The simplest approach is to teach the learning part of the lesson to all the class as they are. Then set work to be done to consolidate your teaching.

Step 2:

There will still be students who will need extra support. There are three ways to help these students.

One idea is to gather them around you at the board or your desk and re-teach your lesson at an appropriate level for these students.
An alternative to this is to have a question and answer session with them in one of two ways. They ask the questions and you provide the answers until everyone is satisfied. The other is for you to ask and for them to answer until you are satisfied. You might like to do both in the order above with you asking questions last to test understanding.
A third alternative is to use a mentoring system where the less able have a personal mentor for the re-teaching.
Achievement Groups:

Step 1:

Group the students in your classroom in achievement groups for each subject. They will need to sit together to allow you easy access to them for the next step. Step 2:

Then, after the basic introduction and some simple set work to consolidate that introduction, re-teach the topic, if necessary, to each achievement group at an appropriate level for them.

Step 3:

Set follow up work to support that learning.

Note: (a)The more talented students should not be required to do many of the basic exercises, just enough to establish that they understand the new work. Then they can begin the more challenging exercises.

(b)These processes will enable all students to start and succeed and reduce unacceptable behaviour and time wasting.

Learning Groups and Mentors:

Step 1:

A third option is to create learning groups in your class that have the full range of student abilities with one or two student mentors per group.

Step 2:

Then teach your class group learning techniques so that they can learn cooperatively.

Step 3:

Use these techniques to teach your new work. The student mentors guide the cooperative learning strategies. They can have a great impact here because they often express your teaching ideas in a language that their fellow students understand better. This tutoring also enhances and strengthens the mentor's learning. Often the less able student can even contribute to the mentor's learning with their questions and comments.

Special Needs Teachers:

In some schools, special needs teachers can be of assistance when timetabled to your class.

Step 1:

Here you need to keep them informed as to your teaching program so they are ready to assist.

Step 2:

Plan with them how you want to use them and who they will be working with.


Seek their help in getting the best resources to help the less able.

Step 4:

You could even invite them to teach a lesson or unit with you as their assistant. They could teach the less able elsewhere while you teach the rest or you could do the reverse as a change.

Step 4:

Another way is for you to teach the new work, find out who is struggling with the new ideas and use the special needs teacher to re-teach/help those students. Thus, a variety of students would get their specialist help.

Step 5:

Most special needs teachers have some additional expertise with gifted and talented that they rarely use. Have them work with your more talented from time to time.

Step 6:

Above all, adopt a flexible approach so that the less able don't feel any stigma is attached to them for being less able in some 'academic' subjects.

Some Other Issues to Consider:

1. Text books: Here there must be lots of graded exercises so that there are available enough exercises to allow for consolidation of the basics. These graded exercises should be divided into easily recognisable groups that you can allocate to each ability group in your class. These graded exercises should introduce each new idea/skill in the correct order to enhance learning. Students are then able to begin the exercises at their level, avoiding unnecessary practice of skills they already have.

2. Basic Skills: Creating a strong understanding of the basic skills of each unit of study must always remain the teacher's first and foremost goal. Without this foundation, the step into problem solving and higher order thinking will not progress well.

3. Less able students need a variety of teaching strategies to enhance their learning. Chalk and talk lessons are often counterproductive for these students.

4. Homework:

Needs to be regular
Needs to consolidate the day's learning
Should not be onerous
Should be easy initially, allowing all students to get a start
Should be checked and corrected each time so that students see that you see it as important.
5. Formal and Informal Assessment: It is important that your assessment program reflects the teaching approaches you use with these classes.

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