Mixed-Ability Teaching
by Edmund Dudley and Erika Osváth
OUP 2015

Mixed-Ability Teaching is part of the Into the classroom series, which provides practical guides for teachers working in primary and secondary school settings. The book aims to equip teachers with tips and techniques they can use to create a positive classroom environment through ‘collaborative ways of working’ within mixed-ability classrooms.

There is an acknowledgement from the authors that all classes are, to some extent, mixed ability. However, this book focuses on classrooms where the students have varying levels of ability in English, giving strategies and techniques to enable teachers to get the best out of their students and classes.

The book is clearly and logically organised, beginning with planning for mixed-ability classes, moving on to teaching mixed levels and then ways of assessment.

Part 1 begins with a discussion of the need for teachers to identify the factors that affect the language classroom by getting to know the students. It includes a number of ways teachers can do this, including questionnaires, surveys or gap fills which the students complete about themselves. Practical examples are given of resources that can be used. This section then goes on to a very useful discussion of the need to set individual and classroom goals in order to motivate students and help to create a positive and purposeful learning environment. This is followed by an excellent chapter on ways to plan differentiated activities, including differentiation by input, process and output. As before, the examples provided are clear, simple and require very little preparation.

Part 2, Managing the classroom, begins with a discussion of the benefits of groupwork in mixed-ability classes, giving explanations of the pros and cons of different types of groupings. Again, highly practical suggestions are given for fun ways to group students, such as ‘grab the string’ and ‘coloured sticky notes’. The chapter goes on to discuss ways of encouraging and motivating weaker or less motivated students by assigning them classroom roles such as ‘fact checker’.

Many other important areas are covered in the book, such as the use of L1 and effective ways to discipline mixed-ability groups. Once more, simple but effective tips are provided.

Part 4 is particularly helpful as it provides techniques for introducing new language and working on the four skills in ways that will ensure that all the students get the most from classroom activities. The focus is on differentiation and making sure all students achieve at a level that is appropriate for them, rather than all being expected to understand or produce the same work. Again, the suggested techniques are simple but effective and do not require too much preparation. My personal favourite, to practise listening, is the ‘Human MP3 player’.

Part 7 deals with assessment and begins with discussion of why traditional assessment methods are not the best method to use, particularly with weaker students who may find them demotivating and damaging to their self-confidence. It provides, instead, a variety of more flexible assessment methods, which allow the students to be assessed at ‘their current level of ability’. These include continuous assessment, self-assessment and portfolio assessment – examples are given throughout of how teachers could do this, such as using the coursebook’s ‘I can ...’ statements to encourage the students to assess and reflect on their progress.

This is a very useful book which deals thoroughly with all aspects of the challenges of teaching mixed-ability classes and provides a huge variety of strategies and techniques that teachers can use to maximise the potential of all their students. The chapters are clearly structured, with excellent ‘try this’ tips throughout which, as mentioned before, do not require too much time to prepare or administer. All the tips are simple, practical and sensible.

Although field-specific terminology is used throughout the book, it is clear and there is not too much jargon. This is a predominantly practical book and theory is included primarily to enable teachers to understand the challenges that they are facing and how the techniques given can help them deal with these issues.

As the authors themselves state, this is not necessarily a book you need to read from cover to cover. Teachers can dip in and out of it, focusing on specific areas where they need support or ideas. It can be seen really as a toolkit for teachers, from which they can select activities or strategies which fit their needs at any particular time.

Although this book is primarily written for primary and secondary school teachers, it would be relevant to teachers working in many different settings, with different age groups. Although some of the activities would not necessarily be suitable for adults, with a little adaptation, or careful selection of activities, this book would be useful for all.

Tamzin Berridge
South Wigston, UK