Some Ideas about Teaching



Teaching Mixed Ability GCSE


Please forgive me if any of the following insult your intelligence or skills.
Also, I note your comment that motivation is not a problem, and assume that behaviour is OK:

First, you need to set the minds of the less able at rest. Every lesson they look at the clever ones and think that - because they can't do as well as them - they're going to fail, and then they give up - don't even try/ just accept that they are too 'thick'. You need to let them know that they can and WILL pass. I tell my pupils in this situation to trust me, and let ME decide whether they're going to fail or not. You need continually to build up the confidence of the less able - can be difficult when they often react to poor subject-self-esteem by stopping working/bringing materials etc.
One motivator is the '
Greenfield School certificate'. I have talked about this before (click the link). This rewards the quantity of work, not the quality - and that way even the least able can achieve and be rewarded. Frequent positive reports home are another idea.

Develop a 'have-a-go' ethos in the class where everyone is happy to share/comment, where all delight in the success of any, at any level.

Secondly, do not pitch your lessons 'in the middle' - that way, you hit nobody. Pitch the initial part of the lesson wholly for the lower end. Make sure that everyone understands the topic at its most basic level. THEN set your work - e.g. less able, do simple cloze exercises t consolidate knowledge and understanding/ more able do further reading/notes to extend and develop their knowledge. I always lay out the two/three choices before the pupils and tell them that pupils hoping to get C and above should do this, while pupils simply hoping to pass can do that etc. - but let them choose which group they see themselves in.
Similarly, when you are doing, for instance, an essay, explain the basic structure/content very simply. When you have done this, invite all who want to start to get on with it - however, explain how you are going to how those who want to do a more sophisticated essay. If all they are interested in a pass, they are welcome to get on with what you have just explained/ those who want a C and above need to listen while you explain a bit more about how to do the essay. Again, LET THEM CHOOSE which group they belong to.

In these ways you cultivate an ethos which encourages the less able to 'go for it' in a limited way. Level 1 at GCSE is 'conveys some related facts' - but they can pass quite well simply if they know a lot of them! That's where you start: getting them if necessary not to worry about the question, but simply to learn and write down loads of facts! That gets them at least to F.

Thirdly, USE the spread in ability. Do not let the pupils sit in large groups of the same ability, so that the class becomes polarised between 'thick' (who sit in glum silence) and 'bright' (who answer all the questions). Sit them next to someone of appropriate ability, but spread the pairs about throughout the class so that they utterly mixed up.
I don't know how you teach, but when I wish to consider a topic we are studying, I often give the pupils 5 minutes discuss the issue/question in small groups so that they come to the class discussion with some ideas - even if they are other pupils' ideas. When you put the pupils into these discussion groups, put them in fours, with (as far as possible) two able and two less able pupils in each. Having to explain it to others will help the more able because it will clarify all kinds of issues in their minds/ whilst listening to the more able discuss and reason will help the less able understand how to think more deeply. Similarly, your could send the pupils away to prepare topics for HWK. Next lesson, either get an able pair to explain it to the class, or get them in their 'fours' to share what they found out before they pool findings as a whole class.
Just before they do an essay/assignment, however, put them together in ability groups to share their ideas before starting work. This will allow them to 'spark' of pupils of appropriate ability.
Just occasionally, when I have pupils for whom it will be appropriate emotionally and socially, I sit an able pupil next to a less able pupil. You need to be VERY careful with this, but sometimes it can help both of them.

Fourthly, be absolutely aware of what your less able pupils need to do to get to the next level. The hierarchy is, broadly:

Level 1: Gives related facts (grades F-u)
Level 2: Makes some points relevant to the question (grades C-E depending on depth of treatment)
Level 3: EXPLAINS how those points answer the question (grades A-D depending on depth of treatment)
Level 4: Develops a logical argument which comes to a reasoned judgement explaining the answer to the question.

When your less able pupils have mastered retailing the facts, get them to work on also dropping in points which answer the question. Actually, these, like the facts, can be told and learned. The amazing thing is that - if they do this very well - they can earn a Grade C!!!!
And thus try to bring them on through the levels, one essay at a time.

Fifthly, there are some things you can do as a whole class - e.g. watch a video/ drama/ guided role play (provided you allocate roles appropriately) etc. where ability is not an issue. Build in these so that everyone can just enjoy being together and relax for a while.
Most of all, concentrate on having FUN as a group.

Posted on: May 3 2005, 11:58 PM





To cite this page, use:   CLARE, JOHN D. (2005/2006), 'Teaching Mixed Ability GCSE',  at Greenfield History Site (