From learning style and language aptitude to age, intelligence, and maturity, nearly every single classroom will be made up of students with different abilities and approaches. It is up to the teacher to recognise these distinctive characteristics and come up with lesson plans that speak to everyone.
But as you’re no doubt already aware, this is easier said than done. It’s hard enough to maintain attention and interest across the classroom, let alone tailor your teaching according to how each pupil prefers to learn.
However, there are a few ways in which you can improve the experience for children with different learning abilities.
Establish a supportive learning environment
First and foremost, try to establish a supportive learning environment, which encourages dialogue between the teacher and student. There should be no shame in struggling to understand a subject or concept, so let pupils know that you’re always on hand to provide assistance.
You should also open up lines of communication between the class, as some children prefer reaching out to friends or peers for help. When students feel more confident and at ease, they’ll be able to perform to the best of their ability.
Effective classroom management
Regardless of learning ability, every student should be involved as much as possible in each lesson. This calls for effective classroom management, which can be achieved with the right table layout, seating arrangements, and visual stimulation.
Don’t forget about the way in which you teach either. Techniques for greater participation include learning everyone’s name, using the board effectively, giving good instructions, setting time limits, providing praise, and asking for feedback.
Striking a balance between working alone and in a group
In Teaching Large Multilevel Classes (2001), Natalie Hess stresses the importance of ‘individualisation’ – opportunities for students to work at their own pace, in their own style and of topics of their choosing.
However, students should be given the chance to collaborate on group projects too. Not only does this help develop learner autonomy, it will also alleviate a reliance on you, the teacher. Other outcomes include better self-evaluation skills as well as the ability to understand compromise and negotiate meaning.
Give precedence to freedom and flexibility
With greater freedom and flexibility, learners of all abilities can reach their full potential. For example, open-ended activities allow students to respond to tasks or questions with a variety of possibilities, not just one answer.
The same goes for homework, which can be used as a tool to review and consolidate materials covered in class. Try not to be overly strict with deadlines and make additional resources available to those that might struggle.
Grabbing attention and maintaining interest
Continuing to teach a topic or theme when certain students find it challenging is bound to affect attention and interest levels. The same goes for lessons and activities that fail to excite or engage.
Therefore, it’s important to find out what the interests of students are outside of the classroom. This could then be transformed into project work or personalisation activities, where pupils work individually or alongside friends with similar tastes.