Inspecting Mixed-Ability Group Challenges within Iranian EFL Public High Schools: An Exploratory Study Fatemeh

Document Type : Research Paper


1 English Department, Sabzevar Branch, Islamic Azad University, Sabzevar, Iran

2 English Department, Torbat-e-Heydarieh Branch, Islamic Azad University, Torbat-e-Heydarieh, Iran


The nature of heterogeneity issues within the context of Iranian, English language learning contexts in high schools is one of the under-researched lines of inquiry. For this aim, a researcher-made, Likert-type questionnaire whose items were initially validated through a multi-stage, exploratory research design among 30 teachers was distributed among some 67, Iranian EFL teachers with different degrees of experience (less vs. more) to find the teachers’ concerns/challenges and their strategies to tackle them. The findings suggested that the concerns behind heterogeneous classes were not consistent regrading weak and strong students. In the second place, it became evident that the order of tendency towards adopting the four enunciated strategies was not the same in the two less and more experienced teachers. Possible interpretations regarding teacher outlook as mapped on ‘teacher experience’ to target heterogeneity issues were presented in the end.


Ashton, K. (2018). Exploring teacher views of multi-level language classes in New Zealand secondary schools. Teaching and Teacher Education69, 104-118.
Badenhorst, G., & East, M. (2015). Hybrid learning in a multi-level German class: Making the most of the reality of combined classes. The New Zealand Language Teacher, 41, 64e77.
Baker, P. (1998). The impact of teaching on student motivation. In S. Brown, S. Armstrong, & G. Thompson (Eds.), Motivating students (pp. 7-14). London: Kogan Page.
Baker, L. M. (2006). Observation: A complex research method. Library Trends, 55(1), 171-189.
Beltman, S., Mansfield, C., & Price, A. (2011). Thriving not just surviving: A review of research on teacher resilience. Educational Research Review, 6(3), 185e207.
Bolli, T., Renold, U., & Wörter, M. (2018). Vertical educational diversity and innovation performance. Economics of Innovation and New Technology, 27(2), 107-131.
Bremner, S. (2008). Some thoughts on teaching a mixed ability class. Scottish Languages Review, 18, 1-10.
Center, Y., Ward, J., & Ferguson, C. (1991). Towards an index to evaluate the integration of children with disabilities into regular classes. Educational Psychology, 11, 77-95.
Chamot, A. U. (2016). The Learning Strategies: Hand book. Longman.
Chairat, P. (2015). Attitudes and Motivation of Non-English Major Students Towards Learning English as a Foreign Language: A Case Study. AJE, 1(1).
Cheung, C. K., & Rudowicz, E. (2010). Academic outcomes of ability grouping among junior high school students in Hong Kong. The Journal of Educational Research96(4), 241-254.
Cohen, E. G. (1991). Teaching in multiculturally heterogeneous classrooms: Findings from a model program. McGill Journal of Education/Revue des sciences de l'éducation de McGill26(001).
Creswell, J. W. (2009). Research design: Qualitative, quantitative, and   mixed method approaches (3rd ed.). Los Angeles: Sage Publications, Inc.
De Neve, D., & Devos, G. (2017). How do professional learning communities aid and hamper professional learning of beginning teachers related to differentiated instruction? Teachers and Teaching, 23(3), 262e283.
Ellis, R. (1994). The study of second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ellis, R. (1997). Second Language Acquisition. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
Faleiros, M. H. V. (2009). Mixed Ability Classes: Problems, Strategies, and Practical Help. Diálogos Pertinentes5(1).
Fruth, J., Lyon, A., & Avila-John, A. (2015). The Impact of Service-Learning Classes on Teacher Education Candidates’ Views of Diversity. Journal of Public Affairs, 4(3), 67-82.
Fuchs, D., Fuchs, L., Kazdan, S., Mathes, P., Prentice, K., & Sáenz, L. M. (2017). Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) for high school students. Vanderbilt University.
Jenkins, J. (2000). The phonology of English as an international language. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
George, P. S. (2005). A rationale for differentiating instruction in the regular classroom. Theory into practice44(3), 185-193.
Gordon, S. (2010). A case study on multi-level language ability groupings in an ESL secondary school classroom: Are we making the right choices? Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Ph.D. dissertation, University of Toronto.
Hai-xia, S. I., & Li-jun, Y. E. (2010). Comparative Study of the New and Experienced Teachers' Differences in the General Teaching of Mathematical [J]. Journal of Mathematics Education6, 017.
Halliman, M. (1990). The effects of ability groupings in secondary schools: A response to Slavin’s best evidence synthesis. Review of Educational Research 60: 501-504.
Hashemi, M. R. & Babaii, E. (2013). Mixed methods research: Toward new research designs in applied linguistics. The Modern Language Journal, 97(4), 828-852.
Harris, S. (2012). Teaching mixed-ability classes. Retrieved 27-7-2013 from
Hatch, Amos J. 2002. Doing Qualitative Research in Education Settings, USA: State University of New York Press.
Hernandez, T. (2012). “Teach to the Middle”: A double case study of two multilevel EFL classes in the Middle East.MA TESOL Collection. Paper 544.
Horwitz, E. K., Horwitz, M. B., & Cope, J. (1986). Foreign language classroom anxiety. The Modern Language Journal, 70, 125-132.
Kim, Y. (2012). Implementing ability grouping in EFL contexts: Perceptions of teachers and students. Language Teaching Research, 16, 289-315.
Klein, A. (2015). No child left behind: An overview. Education Week34(26), 1.
Lamparello, A., & Swann, C. (2016). The New Affirmative Action after Fisher v. University of Texas: Defining Educational Diversity through the Sixth Amendment's Cross-Section Requirement. SMUL Rev., 69, 387.
Lightbown, Patsy & Spada, Nina, (2002). How Languages are Learned, USA: Oxford University Press.
Luo, B., & Tsai, M. (2002). Understanding EFL learners in leveled and mixed classes. Paper presented at the Eleventh International Symposium on English Teachers/Fourth Pan-Asian Conference, Nov. 8–10, Chien Tan Overseas Youth Activity Center, Taipei.
Mahmoodi-Shahrebabaki, M. (2017). The effect of perfectionism on burnout among English language teachers: The mediating role of anxiety. Teachers and teaching, 23(1), 91e105.
Mansor, A. N., Maniam, P. P., Hunt, M. C., & Nor, M. Y. M. (2016). Benefits and Disadvantages of Streaming Practices to Accommodate Students by Ability. Creative Education7(17), 2547.
Montes Reyes, P., & Rodríguez Formoso, J. (2006). Teaching English in mixed-ability classrooms. Some teachers'thoughts on responding to the needs of all learners (pp.1-33). Retrieved April13, 2013 from
Na, P. P. Q. (2007). Some strategies for teaching English to multi-level adult ESL learners: A challenging Experience in Australia. Asian EFL Journal9(4), 306-322.
Panofsky, C. P. (2012). Sociocultural research on learning. Encyclopedia of the sciences of learning, 3131-3135.
Pathan, H., Memon, R. A., Memon, S., Khoso, A. R., & Bux, I. (2018). A Critical Review of Vygotsky’s Socio-Cultural Theory in Second Language Acquisition. International Journal of English Linguistics8(4), 232.
Pavlenko, A. (2007). Autobiographic narratives as data in applied linguistics. Applied linguistics28(2), 163-188.
Perera, M. (2010). Copying with Students Heterogeneity in the English language classrooms. Colombo: NEC.
Poole, D. (2008). Interactional Differentiation in the Mixed-Ability Group: A Situated View of Two Struggling Readers. Reading Research Quarterly, 43 (3), 228-250.
Prodromau, L. (1994). Mixed Ability classes. London: Macmillan
Prema, A. (2016). Challenges in Teaching English to the Heterogeneous Class in Professional Courses. Language in India16(4).
Rahimi, M., & Asadollahi, F. (2012). On the relationship between Iranian EFL teachers’ classroom management orientations and teaching style. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences31, 49-55.
Reid, J. M. (1995). Learning Styles in the ESL/EFL Classroom.Boston. Heinle and Heinle.
Sale, P., & Carey, D. M. (1995). The sociometric status of students with disabilities in a full-inclusion school. Exceptional Children, 62, 6-19.
Sheppard, C., Manalo, E., & Henning, M. (2018). Is ability grouping beneficial or detrimental to Japanese ESP students' English language proficiency development?. English for Specific Purposes49, 39-48.
Simanova, A. (2010). Dealing with mixed ability classes (Doctoral dissertation, Masarykova univerzita, Pedagogická fakulta).
Sixten, M. (1984). Mixed ability teaching versus streaming. Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 28(2), 101-110.
Slavin, R.E. (1995). Cooperative learning and intergroup relations. ERIC      Document ED382730
Stanovich, P. J., Jordan, A., & Perot, J. (1998). Relative differences in academic self-concept and peer acceptance among students in inclusive classrooms. Remedial and Special Education19(2), 120-126.
Suprayogi, M. N., Valcke, M., & Godwin, R. (2017). Teachers and their implementation of differentiated instruction in the classroom. Teaching and Teacher Education, 67, 291e301.
Thorne, S. L., & Lantolf, J. P. (2006). Sociocultural theory and the genesis of second language development. Oxford University Press.
Tomlinson, C. A. (2012). How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms. SCD.
Tomlinson, C. A. (2014). Differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. ASCD.
Treko, N. (2013). The big challenge: Teaching large multi-level classes. Academic Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies, 2(4), 243e251.
Tsao, C. (2003) The Impact of ability grouping on Foreign Language Learners –      A Case Study.Hong Kong Journal of TEFL number 9 pp79-102.
UR, P.(2005). A course in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Vaughn, S., Elbaum, B. E., & Schumm, J. S. (1996). The effects of inclusion on the social functioning of students with learning disabilities.Journal of Learning Disabilities, 29, 598-608.
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Woodward, T. (2005). Planning lessons and courses: Designing sequences of work for the language classroom.Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. http://dx.doi .org/10 .1093/elt/58. 4.375
Xanthou, M., & Pavlou, P. (2010). Teachers' perceptions of students' attitudes in mixed ability EFL State primary school classes. Advances in Research on Language Acquisition and Teaching: Selected Papers, pp 473-485.
Zineb, L. (2013). The Impact of Learners’ Heterogeneity in the Class on the Performance of the ESP Practitioner Doctoral dissertation, Kasdi Merbah University, Ouargla).
Volume 7, Issue 27 - Serial Number 27
December 2019
Pages 125-145
  • Receive Date: 10 January 2019
  • Revise Date: 14 March 2019
  • Accept Date: 18 June 2019
  • First Publish Date: 01 December 2019