Whether you love them or hate them, there’s no doubt that concerns are periodically raised about the merits of mixed ability grouping in schools. While there are many benefits to be derived from having children in groups that reflect the diverse nature of our society, obviously the goal for every child has to be for them to achieve to their greatest ability, whatever context they are in.
Research on mixed ability teaching versus academic setting hasn’t yet settled the question of what works best. After all, every group, whether genuinely mixed, set or streamed, is a mixed ability group. When it comes to humans, there’s no such thing as homogeneity! The key point is that with excellent quality teaching, children may thrive regardless of the nature of the group they are in.
So how can we help to ensure we get the best out of children in mixed ability groups? Try these ten top tips:
1. If a group is mixed ability, the teaching must be too. In other words, you cannot have a one size fits all approach to the learning. Effective differentiation is one key (although difficult to achieve).
2. Know your classes. What is each child capable of in each subject area? How can they be stretched without being negatively stressed? Be crystal clear about what you expect each child to achieve.
3. There can be an assumption that teachers need to be especially aware of lower ability children when teaching mixed ability groups and this is undoubtedly true. But there is some evidence that the highest ability children may need close attention to ensure they also achieve what they are capable of.
4. Encourage independent learning. These skills combine well with techniques for teaching mixed ability groups.
5. Be aware of the opportunities for children to learn from each other. This is almost always a fruitful experience for young learners. Strategies such as peer questioning or collaboration may help.
6. Utilise praise effectively. Remember, it may be more beneficial to concentrate on the effort that has gone into work than the outcome. How might all in the class be encouraged if they haven’t yet reached their learning goals?
7. Use questioning carefully. Aim to develop thinking skills through your questioning style.
8. Devote time to the identification of muddled thinking in your children. Offer them the opportunity to demonstrate their understanding on a regular basis and to make connections between what has come before and what is to come next.
9. Place no caps on what children can do in your lessons. As the most able move through the learning at their own pace, ensure there is plenty of ground for them to cover.
10. Develop skills of reflection in children. You might do this by considering ways of reviewing, learning and celebrating as a group. Emphasise the contributions made by each member. This needn’t be burdensome. Rather, it can be a simple but regular reflection on what has happened in the classroom, the learning that has been achieved and the progress undertaken.
Were our tips helpful? Let us know your thoughts below!