Planning for mixed abilities
In the age that we live in today, a school‚Äôs intake is vital, if but only to make sure all the books are balanced‚Ä¶ political but truth!!
In an age where SEN are incorporated with mainstream learning and lesson objectives, teachers are finding it ever more difficult to cope with meeting the needs of every pupil and hitting the targets set at the beginning of the schooling year. It is virtually impossible in fact to ensure that all learners from those with the severest needs to the other end of the spectrum (Gifted and talented), have the amount of teaching encouragement, nurturing and selected tuition they need to strive and progress. There is no such thing as a middle of the road lesson anymore, whereby you enter the classroom with your three learning objectives and outcomes, and leave the classroom with everyone on the same level. Naturally, no child is the same. All children learn at different levels and will excel in subjects that other may find difficult and vise-versa. For example your mathematical genius of the class might not be able to creatively write. Your William Shakespeare of the class might not cope with the laws of physics or human biology. And the Albert Einstein in your class might struggle with handwriting and punctuation. As humans, we all have strengths and weaknesses. To get everyone in a classroom, regardless of disability or gift, is a mammoth task. I could probably write a book rather than a blog on the ins and outs of mixed ability learning, but instead, I will leave you with another article I found on TES website. Happy reading!!!
How to‚Ä¶ plan for a class with very mixed abilities
27th November 2016 at 16:01
One teacher offers tips for making sure that all students succeed, even in the most mixed ability groups
The debate over whether children should be taught in sets or mixed ability groups can divide staff rooms like mud-laden trenches.
Research evidence suggests that students with prior low attainment do better in mixed ability groups, but it can be daunting to plan lessons when you are faced with a class list that ranges from the very top to the very bottom of the ability scale.
Planning a lesson for a very mixed group does not mean creating stacks of differentiated worksheets or taking ‚ÄúAll, Most, Some‚Äù learning objectives to new heights.
Instead, consider the following:
- Stave off stereotypes To teach a group with a wide range of prior attainment, we need to first confront our instinctive stereotyping of students and plan accordingly, checking our biases along the way. The fact that a child is quiet and well-behaved can too often mask a whole raft of learning issues; whereas one instance of bad behaviour from a naughty child can falsely distort our view of their intelligence.
- Get them to take a pre-test Basing our understanding of a child‚Äôs abilities purely on the data that we have received leads to false assumptions. But regular low-stakes tests can really get underneath the differences in ability. Plan a quiz for students to take in the lesson before you start teaching a new topic to find out what they truly know about it.
- Flexible grouping within lessons It is too easy to shunt low attainers onto the not-so-subtle ‚Äòspecial‚Äô table and then arrange the rest of the class based around that. Our students‚Äô prior knowledge can prove so variable that any grouping that occurs within class, including seating plans, can prove woefully fixed and cumbersome. Instead, we need to adapt groupings flexibly and regularly.
- Co-plan with a teaching assistant Your time might be squeezed, but if you are lucky enough to have a TA in your classroom, try to create opportunities to co-plan. Doing this can help you to build time into lessons for you to work more with the students who need the most support, while the TA works with more able students.
- Focus on asking great questions When a class has students with varied starting points, it is essential to elicit lots of high quality talk to tease our misconceptions and ensure that they understand. Try using the ABC feedback model, in which you ask students to agree with; build upon; or challenge the answers of others. This provides scaffolding for their responses.
- Aim for an 80 per cent success rate Students don‚Äôt always ‚Äúget it‚Äù, no matter what the class grouping. In very mixed ability groups, we can easily crack on, leaving individuals behind. Plan to end lessons with a rough indicator of how many students have understood what they need to learn. If 80 per cent of students ‚Äúgot it‚Äù, then assume that you can move on in the next lesson. Any less than that and you should re-plan and reteach the topic.
Alex Quigley is an English teacher and director of the research school at Huntington School in York. He is the author of The Confident Teacher.
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