Author: Natalie Nezhati, Educational content consultant

Here in the UK, a secondary level Physics class will typically comprise 30 mixed ability learners. If the lesson is sixty minutes long, the maximum one-to-one teacher time any student can expect to receive is therefore just two minutes – notwithstanding any routine tasks of taking registers, defining objectives, recording lateness, addressing off-task behaviour and admonishing students without pens.

Every class is a mixed ability class
And whether the class is streamed, set or otherwise, [[READ_MORE]] “every class is a mixed ability class” since it’s sure to contain a range of learners each with unique strengths, weaknesses, experiences, emotions, motivations and learning styles. Some confident, others shy, skilled educators will personalise the learning to each student, cultivate relationships and treat each as an individual.

Take, for example, highly able, Molly, who studies in our aforementioned Physics class with a predicted A*. Since KS4 students at Molly’s school work in mixed ability groups, she often sits next to her best friend, Becky, who is struggling to produce D grade work. Glancing over, their teacher notices that Molly appears distracted and Becky seems out of her depth. With 28 other students to supervise, the problem is a familiar one.

UK class sizes
In the UK, there’s no statutory limit on class size beyond Key Stage 1 and, following research conducted by the highly acclaimed Professor John Hattie, many will insist there’s little relationship between class size and teaching quality. Yet, from the perspective of a busy educator faced with an unusually large class and all the associated demands of extra marking, progress tracking, and potential behavioural issues, this might not sound particularly reassuring.

In theory, excellent teaching and learning can take place in a class of any size. But, in reality, it can take a significant amount of time to produce regular, meaningful assessment feedback and thoughtfully differentiated lessons for larger learner groups.

There is no easy answer but sometimes solutions can lie in the judicious use of modern technologies, together with proven classroom management strategies.

Assessment for Learning
Peer- and self-assessment are both excellent feedback methods and educators often find that providing clearly-defined success criteria will help students to assess with objectivity. At a formative level, teachers can also make use of time-saving digital tools, such as NetSupport School Student Testing, to create shareable, reusable auto-marked quizzes.

After all, embedded assessment need not be arduous and many teachers will simply request a quick ‘thumbs up’ or ‘thumbs down’ mid-lesson to gauge understanding. The Q&A module in NetSupport School even provides a digital version of this strategy while also digging deeper to gauge students’ understanding.

The good news is that AFL can take place in any number of ways and, increasingly, teachers are simply using stamps reading ‘verbal feedback given’ as a quick way of recording informal learning conversations in student books.

Behaviour for learning
Often, the greatest concern associated with larger classes is how to maintain high standards of behaviour, particularly when students are learning collaboratively.

Experienced educators will understand the importance of outlining their expectations for behaviour at the beginning of the academic year, together with consequences for breaking the rules. It is often useful to involve students in devising their own set of collaboratively defined ‘classroom rules’ for display – such as listening in silence while others are speaking – to encourage greater ownership for learning behaviours.

Checking that each student is appropriately challenged can be tricky in larger classes, but skilful educators will know that learning shouldn’t have to involve a teacher. Students can be excellent resources for each other and, using NetSupport School Group Chat sessions, a teacher can assign student groups with designated leaders.

This means that Molly’s teacher might create a group for those identified as ‘Gifted and Talented’ and assign an extension question or problem following a piece of classwork. The same teacher might use NetSupport School ‘Show Mode’ to scaffold Becky’s learning by modelling work on her screen.

Since larger classes are sometimes dominated by the more gregarious students, it’s important to ensure that every learner is engaged as an active classroom participant. It’s therefore useful to implement a ‘no hands up’ policy to ensure that even the quietest personalities are given the chance to share their ideas. Equally, regular use of the ‘think-pair-share’ feedback model will encourage greater class participation.
Learners using the Student Journal in NetSupport School can even access personalised revision materials – including lesson summaries, test results and teacher notes – for post-lesson learning that is structured, challenging, and appropriately tailored to their needs.

While educator concerns about excessively large classes are wholly justified, technology has also made it easier to manage learning. Fortunately, there now exist many effective tools and strategies to help personalise learning to every individual without placing excessive demands on teacher time and energy. Because, after all, every class is a mixed ability class.

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