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Problems And Perspectives In Teaching English In Mixed Ability Classrooms

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All children are born with potential and we cannot be sure of the learning limits of any child (Robert Fisher, 2001:1)

Presently, the English language teachers throughout the world keep on buzzing a word that their students are in mixed level. In the past teachers may well have said that the problem was just that some students were cleverer or simply 'better' than others in the class. But we now understand that the situation is more complex than that. Our students are indeed mixed in many ways. They are different in terms of their levels of:Attention,Interest,Motivation,Learning styles,Types of intelligences,Physiological needs,Speed, Maturity,World knowledge.

The above said attributes are the causes for mixed ability classrooms. The characteristics of Mixed ability classes are:

* While some students follow the lesson and are able to answer questions and do well in tests, others fall behind, don't seem to understand and do badly in tests.

* While some students pay attention and are cooperative, others 'misbehave' and seem disinterested.

* Teachers feel concerned that they are not challenging the high-achievers enough and at the same time are not giving enough help to those who are not doing as well.

* Teachers find it hard to 'pitch' their lessons at a level where all students can be engaged.

Teachers have faced the problems of mixed-ability classes since the times of one-roomed schools with children who had not only different knowledge but also a different age and were supposed to learn different things. The situation nowadays is a bit different, but the problems of mixed ability classes remain.McKeown (2004) believes that many teachers see a mixed ability class as consisting of a group of average and able children with a subset of children who have learning problems. Ireson & Hallam (2001) suggest that teachers need to recognise that a class becomes mixed ability class because children have different strengths and weaknesses and develop at different rates. They have different preferences for learning and displaying their work. Mixed ability classes are a fact of not only language classes but of all subjects.

It is important to make a clear distinction between mixed ability teaching and mixed ability classes. Most teachers have to teach mixed ability groups but they may not be using mixed ability teaching strategies.

Howard Gardener's Theory of Multiple Intelligences tells us that we all may learn in different ways and we also have natural preferences to the way in which we enjoy learning. If we only teach in one way many students will be disadvantaged. The teacher should recognize that he is teaching to a group of different individuals not a single student with 25 faces. The students are not less able than others; they just need a different kind of stimulation. Fisher suggests that many children don't achieve their potential because they are told "to make a journey but they have no map."

Children cannot overcome blocks to learning if they have not learnt how to learn. Teachers should act as role models for learning and teach pupils how to become independent and effective learners. Pupils will be more motivated if they understand the aim of a lesson and have some input.

We, teachers, should understand ourselves whether we are addressing to all the students in the class. Sometimes without being aware of it ourselves we are making the difference between students greater by favouring some students and ignoring others. Consider the questions below to reflect upon our own teaching and consider whether we are directing our lesson to all the students in the class:

* Can all the students see you?

* Can you see all the students?

* Can all the students hear you?

* Do you know all the students' names?

* Do the weaker students sit at the back, where it's more difficult for you to make eye contact with them?

* Do you ask questions to the class and give everyone time to respond or do you let the quick students call out the answers first, so that it's always the same students who do the answering?

* Are you fair and impartial?

* Do you encourage all the students?

* Are you patient?

* Are your instructions clear?

* Is your lesson well signposted? (i.e. do students know what they should be doing at any given time? Do you give time limits for activities? Has everyone noticed that you want to give some new instructions or explain something?)

* Are all the students comfortable? (If a student is too hot, in pain, hungry, upset, preoccupied etc they are not in the right condition to learn.)

Problems in Mixed Ability Classes

Effective Learning

As a teacher, our aim is to reach all of our students. However, it is well known that every student has a different way of learning, and learns and progresses at different speeds. Thus, while some students may find the learning task very easy to deal with, others may find it difficult to understand. Sometimes it is observed that a student is bright in schooldays whereas he is dull in studies in the tertiary level, it happens vice-versa also.Besides, learning also depends on the learners background as they may come from different family, different environment and/or different place, different society may be an obstacle , which eventually results in ineffective learning. Moreover, although it is quite difficult for the teacher to know about each student and to follow what each one does during the lessons even in small classes, it is important for teachers to monitor each and every student and to reach their needs in a variety of ways to achieve effective teaching.


Since most language textbooks are designed for an ideal homogeneous classroom environment, teachers always have to deal with the problem that students react to the textbook differently due to their individual differences. First of all, some students may find the textbook boring and very hard, whereas some find it interesting or very easy. In addition, as language



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