In every classroom there are students who have a wide range of abilities. Some students will have learned material before; others will be encountering it for the first time. This can be a challenge for teachers who need to use a standard curriculum to instruct students with different abilities. With a few simple strategies, teachers can make room for students who learn more slowly, while still challenging students who have an easier time.
One way to make students who learn more slowly feel comfortable is to allow students to work in groups that fit their learning style. This is easily accomplished by putting students in small groups to complete projects. The key to this activity is to give students a flexible number of tasks to complete. For instance, each group can have a worksheet that has ten activities. By telling students at the outset that they are not expected to complete all the activities, and that they should just do as many as they can, you create a low-stakes opportunity for students to work at their own pace. By putting students into groups with similar abilities, teachers can create a comfortable working environment for all students.
Another way to make students of different abilities feel more comfortable is to send more time-consuming work home to be completed as homework. Students don’t have to report how much time they spent on homework each night. So students who work more slowly don’t have to compare themselves to students who complete their homework more quickly. All that matters is that every student has the time they need to complete the work. Not only does this create a less judgmental environment for students who take more time, but it also frees up time for more instruction in class. By reserving class time for activities that everyone can complete quickly, teachers can ensure that they’re able to cover as much material as possible in the classroom.
A more creative way to deal with the issue of students who work at different speeds is to give students assignments that they can structure themselves. One example of this is to give students ten questions to answer, and tell them that they’re required to turn in at least five correct answers. Students who work quickly can complete more questions for extra credit. Students who work more slowly can select which questions they want to tackle with the time they have. This puts all the students in control of their own goals and the pace at which they work. A second benefit of this strategy is that students who generally work quickly can elect to take it easy and work more slowly if it helps them. In this way, we aren’t just helping the students who need more time. We are giving all students more control of their learning processes.
There will always be a diversity of abilities in a classroom. But by using some simple strategies to make assignments more flexible, we can create a more comfortable learning experience for everyone.