Teaching Tools for the Multilevel Classroom: Part 1

Sarah Lynn

Sarah Lynn

As educators, we know how to differentiate instruction one student at a time, but how do we differentiate instruction for a whole classroom of students at once? And how do we maintain cohesion in a classroom with so many moving parts? In this and upcoming issues I’ll be presenting approaches and tools that address the challenges of the multilevel classroom.

A Common Classroom Experience

In our digital age, the classroom presents a unique opportunity for students to learn together and develop face-to-face social communication skills.

For this reason, I resist the urge to differentiate the materials students use in class. Instead, I strive to use common materials and as many commonly shared assignments as possible, but I differentiate how students approach the material, or what they do once they complete the core-assignments. In my class, we start each activity as a class, we break out into groups, and then we return to the class to debrief and summarize. The class is the beginning and end of every learning activity.

Technique #1: Grouping Students by Level

One way to manage the break-out groups in a multilevel classroom is by sorting students by level. In this arrangement, students work with others at a similar pace. The teacher differentiates instruction by managing the key variables at the outset: group composition, availability of language support, and complexity of task.

Tips for Low-Level Groups

  • Keep the numbers down. Keep low-level groups small. Communication and collaboration is always easier when fewer people are involved.
  • Provide model language. Make sure students have the language they need to complete the assignment. Often that means writing some key phrases on the board or getting students to locate a reference page in their book.
  • Limit the assignment. Limit the number of items the group needs to complete. When groups return to the whole class debriefing, make sure you call on this group early, so they can contribute the work they were able to complete.

Tips for High-Level Groups

  • Grow the group. The more people in a group, the more challenging the communication and collaboration.
  • Step away from model language. Encourage students to work independently from the model language. If the model is on the board, encourage the students to turn their seats away from it. If the model is in the book, encourage them to keep it closed as much as possible.
  • Assign an additional task. These tasks should be familiar learning routines to students, so you don’t need to interrupt for long to explain the next step. Some additional activities are:
    • After a role play: Students write their dialogue out and read it aloud, making language adjustments as needed. Or students record their role play (with voice note on their cell phones), transcribe their speech, and identify errors. Students submit their writing to you at the end of class.
    • After a reading activity: Students identify key words in the text, or students write additional comprehension questions. They write their additional information/questions on the board for the whole class debriefing.
    • After a discussion activity: Students write their responses, and then review their written work by reading their responses aloud to group members. Students submit their writing to you at the end of class.

Over the summer I’ll be listing additional expansion activities for higher level groups on my blog, http://teachertwoteacher.wordpress.com/ Come by and take a look. And in the next newsletter I’ll present another technique for differentiating instruction.