Differentiated Instruction in Classes of Differing Ability

#ELTchat is a group of ELT professionals discussing topics of interest every Wednesday at 12pm or 9pm on rotation. Every Saturday, one of the moderators puts up a blog post on the #ELTchat Blog asking teachers who follow #ELTchat to propose some topics for the next charts. #ELTchat followers can go to that post and suggest topics in the comments under the blog post. On Sunday evening, the moderators review the topics and create an online poll. #ELTchat followers are then invited to vote on the topics until Wednesday morning (eltchat.org)

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This week’s topic was “Differentiated Instruction in Classes of Differing Ability.” The participants in the discussion were:

@SueAnnan, @LahiffP, @naomishema, @Shaunwilden, @HanaTicha, @angelos_bollas, @David_Boughton, @MarjorieRosenbe, @MicaelaCarey, @theteacherjames, @ebefl, @Nouella89, @carol_goodey, @HilaryNunns, @RichardBadger2, @AnthonyGaughan.

Mixed Ability = Mixed Level?

The first part of the discussion focused, mainly, on the difference between mixed ability and mixed level classes. Teachers agreed that mixed ability classes refer to classes of learners whose overall level is (almost) the same, but some perform better in one skill whereas others in another one. Mixed level, on the other hand, refers to classes of learners whose overall level differs from one another.

As @MicaelaCarey said, all classes are mixed, aren’t they?

The Hows of Differentiate Instruction

The most common views on how to achieve Differentiate Instruction were:

-Assign different homework tasks among learners: Teachers can assign homework with more or less tasks for different learners, or they could assign more or less challenging tasks as homework according to the learners’ abilities.

-Differentiate classwork: As with homework differentiation, the teacher can choose to either assign more or less tasks to different group of learners, or they could modify the tasks so as to cater for individual needs and abilities. Also, teachers can assign different time limits for task completion to different learners.

-Use blended learning: offer some online tools that would help weaker learners improve.

-Offer informal tutorials: give learners the chance to tell you what they think about their progress, inform them about their ‘weaker’ areas, and suggest ways to improve.

-Use Task-Based Learning and assign different team roles to different learners: ‘stronger’ learners could become assistants to ‘weaker’ ones for the tasks in which ‘weak’ ones need further support.

-Include cooperative learning time slots in your curriculum: allow for peer-to-peer teaching/learning to happen.

Points to Consider

The most prominent suggestions for further thought were:

-Differentiated instruction might widen the gap among learners, if not done appropriately,

-Differentiated instruction requires more time for planning and preparation,

-Stronger learners might feel that they are doing all the work, which might result in lack of motivation.

Links for further reading (as suggested by participants of the discussion):

How do you deal with Mixed Ability classes (#eltchat, March 1st, 2011)

What is differentiated instruction? (by Carol Ann Tomlinson)

Managing Mixed Ability classes (#auselt chat, July 4th, 2013)

Differentiation, the new monster in education (The Guardian, February 18th, 2003)

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