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Q&A #293


One class, different abilities

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From: Mary Lou (for Teacher2Teacher Service)
Date: Apr 09, 1998 at 15:36:28
Subject: Re: One class, different abilities

It has been over twenty-five years since I taught fourth grade but I have had 
similar situations of different-ability children in the same classroom when 
teaching high school. Perhaps some of the ideas that I used at that level will be 
helpful to you.

The classroom was set up so that each child was assigned to a group. Within this 
group were 3 or 4 children with at least one high-ability as well as one low-
ability child. The topic for each day, as well as the homework for that day, was 
presented in written form to each child at the beginning of the unit. 

While I did not do this for the ninth grade you might do this for the fourth:  
indicate what material on each page has to be covered by all students and what 
additional work has to be covered by each student individually. This sounds like a
lot of work on your part. However, plan the entire unit, put it all on the paper, 
and then cross out what each child is not expected to do.

You might ask in what way these papers would differ between the ability groups.   
Everyone has to complete what you consider essential. However, not everyone might 
need to repeat material every day. Low-ability students do need to repeat, whereas 
high-ability students generally learn things quickly. A repetition every second or
third day might be sufficient for them.

During the unit take a catch-up day for you to spend time with students who are 
having trouble. You can find this out by giving a short quiz the previous day. On 
catch-up days the students who can do the work should be working on extensions or 
more difficult work on their own.  

At the beginning of this I mentioned that students should work in groups. Most of 
the time this allows someone in the group to answer questions. Higher-ability 
students can generally answer questions for other students and work on their own 
work at the same time. This leaves you free to handle those students who need 
special instruction.

This idea of a catch-up day may be repeated for one or two days prior to testing/
evaluation. High school texts seem to have more material than any one teacher 
could handle. Elementary texts should have sufficient material from which you can 
choose so you do not have to create it. 

One of the pitfalls of allowing higher-ability students to work together with each 
other is that you are left with all of the students with questions. Keeping the 
students together in a group forces some of your students to help others. Overall, 
I prefer mixed-ability groups to teach because the constant questions of the 
lower-ability groups tend to solidify the knowledge of the higher-ability
students.

I hope that this has helped you.

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