Mixed Level Classes

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben's Patreon at $10 or more
Already a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to access this content.



27 thoughts on “Mixed Level Classes”

  1. One correction: I should have said “our” Latin -Best Practices Listserv rather than “my.” I am a co-moderator along with Bob Patrick and David Maust.

  2. Wow, awesome, this is what we need more of. I’d LOVE to hear more how to deal with multi-level classes as I’ll have one next year. Blaine says “proceed as usual” but to solicit output more from 2nd year kids.

    BC is redesigning languages curriculae and should ditch the French 8,9, 10 etc designations– should be levels.

  3. I think the important point Justin makes (echoing what we know deep down about all of our classes), is that every group of students, no matter how carefully assessed and categorized, is mixed level, sometimes with a range of 2-3 “years” on either end.

    I interpret Blaine’s words “proceed as usual” to mean: “You are already teaching mixed level classes, so continue to implement CI strategies because they are inherently differentiated and will allow you to get all of them to understand and progress in their acquisition.”

    1. I taught a mixed level class of Spanish I & II last year, and I was nervous about differentiating at first. I happened to be pregnant at the time, and the bigger I got, the less I cared about distinguishing between the two levels. I got to where I couldn’t even tell who was level I & II– some were just faster processors than others, and we all did the same stories. Faster processors would absolutely pipe up with more contributions and more complex language, but they were all in the same CI boat together. I don’t think I could have taught that class without TPRS.

      1. But there could be a student who outputs a lot at level one, because of the nature of her personality, and a quieter student at level two who outputs nothing. The language is still cooking in the deeper minds of both kids.

        So the question might become if output is even a sign of mastery in the very early years. Many of us I am sure have seen a truly quiet blotter kid for two or even three years suddenly just start motormouthing* in the language at some point, unexpectedly toward the end of their high school career, as a result of all the input during those first two or three years.

        All kids in high school are babies in terms of output, when considered in terms of thereal goal of true fluency that we are really teaching for. We should teach for June of their tenth year of language, is my thinking.

        *I am seeing this in my French 3 class right now. I’m hearing lots of output during class from kids I wouldn’t have thought could do it, who have been silent for over 2 and 1/2 years with me up to this point.

        1. In my level 2 class, my verbally quietest kids are my best writers and also best speakers. It’s just that they don’t LIKE speaking for whatever reason. They’ll answer if called on, or for acting (perfectly) but don’t volunteer. The volunteer-to-talk kids are a mixed bag, some good some less so.

          This is why I don’t like jGR or other participation evaluations as much as I do formal tests: some (but not all) kids do well “interactioanlly” in class; others do terribly acording to jGR but can really output one-on-one, etc. (mind you this is MY experience– others’ may differ 😉 )

          1. James on the Petit Prince reading, I have started to split the class periods between that and Les Yeux de Carmen, because that is an IL book* and I see it as a bridge up to the reading of the authentic text. It’s not that it isn’t working, but I think we have enough time to do both before these kids, who as you know have been with me as CI students for almost three years now.

            When we in fact spend (the second half of) class on the Petit Prince, we tend to get carried away by the beauty of the text which often, not always, takes us into English, so my original plan of intense R and D (fifteen minutes on one line is not uncommon) which was the original experiment here, if you will, is hard to do because we get distracted by the ideas and the actual prosaic beauty of some of the lines in that book.

            So I have a problem that is like choosing between apple and cherry pie for dessert – a problem any teacher would love to have. If I can stay focused and in the TL with that intense repetition over long bursts of minutes so that they can get what I am saying, they learn a ton of French, but if I can’t stay in the TL because the book is so beautifully written, we end up having conversations in English about the messages, messages that will stay with them throughout life, and that is not such a bad thing.

            Indeed, now that we have found the power that teaching in this way brings, the great gains over short periods of time, should we just mercilessly drive the kids forward to the last day that they are in our classes as if auditory input is the most important thing? It isn’t. Appreciation of each other is.

            Even in level four they are still babies in terms of the language since it takes many thousands, not hundreds, of hours to master it. Would it then be such a bad thing if we were to capitalize on the opportunity that all the circling we did over two and a half years has given us to settle in with a good book and enjoy the conversation in English (the way it is done in American graduate schools, where English is used because the four percenters can only read the language). These wonderful kids have hung on with us for three or four years and this is like dessert, is it not, even if class is in English? I have no problem with the latter option. I’ve earned it and the kids have earned it.

            So between Carmen, which is the perfect book to get them to greater ease with the Petit Prince, and the authentic text, with the choice of hammering the CI in the book or discussing it in English, I am loving my seniors. I haven’t always in the past. I haven’t known what to do with them because they tend to spoil in the spring of their final year of high school, and I don’t blame them. They can hardly take school anymore, bless their college bound hearts. The only time we do stories is when people come in to observe, and we only do it as a kind of dog and pony show and they just show off. Without observers there, stories don’t work with these seniors.

            *I have a list of the chapter books (from our DPS Scope and Sequence work) divided up as per their ACTFL proficiency category that I will publish as an article here real soon. It might help some of us plan levels, since chapter books have become, for me anyway, such a huge part of my CI instruction over the past few years. Maybe we can get a discussion going about which books are most read and most useful.

  4. I definitely see how each class is really a multi-level group anyway. But it’s very hard for me to imagine teaching total beginners along with 4th/5th years of Chinese all together. Chinese doesn’t have many cognates with English – almost only proper nouns at that – and reading is not phonetic (not until you’re at an advanced level at least). Unless maybe the earlier groups work off of pinyin readings, and the advanced groups worked off of character reading… even so, I think almost all new kids would be overwhelmed and some of the older ones would be bored. After a year, perhaps, a combined class could be done. I can more easily imagine having kids start in first year and advance based on teacher & student agreement about levels after that.

    But it is encouraging to me to think of teaching for June of senior year. I do that more & more with my 4-year sequence, and it helps me a lot when I think of what I’m putting off asking of my beginning-level students (ex, hand writing characters) that high schools around here seem to find so important.

  5. Diane I completely agree with your description of why levels 1 and levels 4 shouldn’t be together. It’s too much. Meredith Richmond at East High, over ten years ago, did a four level study for one year and Blaine followed it intensely, even coming to Denver just to do a master class with those four level kids all in one classroom at the same time. I was in Meredith’s room when Blaine taught it, and he was speaking at about a level 3 level I would guess. I say that because the only kids really keeping up were the threes and fours and the few ones in there were lost, with one poor level one kid under a hoodie, hiding from Blaine. And yet they agreed then that it was working. But over the years I have become a big fan of the 1/2, 2/3, and /3/4 plan that we are trying to crank up here in DPS. It really makes sense to everyone except the counselors.

    1. Thanks for the eye-witness clarification on this Ben. I have been suggesting to my coordinator that mixing classes for greater retention might be a solution.

      The 1/2, 2/3, 3/4 plan seems to be something that might not be rejected out of hand like a 1/2/3/4.

      1. Nathaniel I think that the ideal program is one in which students take 1/2, 2/3 and 3/4 classes. In that schema, a child who moves slower (no blame, no judgment) than another kid can take the 1/2 option for up to three years. As long as they enjoy it, and learn, even if they move more slowly, what harm is there in that plan? Another faster processing child can move from the level 1 part of the 1/2 option to the 2/3 option. A third child who moves more slowly but enjoys it can stay in the 2/3 slot for as long as they wish, and some of the privileged kids who may have traveled in the country could move as fast as they want through the plan.

        In this plan, each of the three combo options would basically be levels 1, 2 and 3, but mixing them up in the way suggested above provides some of the options that Justin implied in his comment above.

        Thank you for sharing this with us, John.

        1. Jeffery Brickler

          Ben et alii,

          I have been trying to advocate at my school for leveling based not on years in a classroom but on ACTFL guidelines. I’d love to get feedback here if you don’t mind.

          Basically, I said that we would put kids in a class not called Level I, but called Novice mid, Novice High, Intermediate Low. We could assess the kids in the 3 modes of communication and allow them to move at their level. It would also tell them more about the progress than Level 1, 2, 3, 4, which means nothing. By describing the level or even defining what a student can do in that level, we can move students along.

          I was thinking that we could do this without judgement and we could love our students and some would be motivated to move up more quickly even though we know it takes hours and hours more than they think.

          For example, we could put the beginning student in Novice low-mid class. This student would stay in Novice low-mid until he she could perform the skills to move up. We could define the skills based on 3 modes of communication. Then, a student could move at the semester if he she demonstrated those abilities. This would allow everyone to progress at his/her level and give a good description of their ability rather than the meaningless, Latin I, Latin II, Latin III, Latin IV etc. This naming is stupid and says nothing and often allows teachers to force kids to take a class simply because they can.

          Please give me your thoughts on this. What am I not thinking of? Is this stupid?

          1. Jeff this is pretty much a perfect description of how we in DPS are thinking, but of course the handing out of credits would put counselors into a tizzy. But it doesn’t have to be that way. It can work, just as you described it above. Eventually it will be as you describe. A few schools will do it, then it will become trendy and after a number of years/decades it will be commonly done.

        2. Thanks for fleshing that out a little more, Ben.

          I did not take the time to think through the possible sequences(as you just did). I just had this gut instinct that it addressed Diane’s concern about having true beginners mixed in with 4/5s. (I can picture more than just guidance counselors having a problem with that wide of a spread.)

          I sent an email to my coordinator right after I read this post this afternoon. She is rethinking things and is interested. I will be in a better position to discuss options now.

          Just to think this through a little better, I’ll through out a few scenarios and see what you think:
          1. A student who goes 3 years in 1/2, would then go to 2/3 (or possibly 3/4) in their 4th year? And her transcript would say 1, 2, 3, and 4?
          2. Someone moves from 1/2 to 2/3 to 3/4 could continue in 3/4 for a second year? Her transcript would also read 1,2,3, and 4?

          A lot of us may not be interested in what the transcript says, but I know my principal would ask that question. So would guidance counselors. In fact, almost everyone in my department would.

          1. Both transcripts would read 1, 2, 3 and 4. Both kids will have graduated with four years of language, but at different proficiency guideline levels. So what?

            Those having a problem with this are using a model of education with roots based in competition. They think that we are here to reward the strong but not the weak, to separate them out so that we have models like at George Washington HS here in Denver where the rich white have their own IB school in another part of the building so they don’t have to mix with the brown and black kids, even though the CI trained brown and black kids have in the past handed them (the IB kids) their asses on a platter on the DPS exit language exams.

            If competition is the dominant force in education today and has been for the past century as well, then who are we to suggest otherwise? Competition and being superior to others is part of our way of life. We cultivate it. We need to feel as if our kids are smarter and can jump higher than the others.

            What is the opposite of competition? Cooperation and understanding. Bowing to those not as fast or not as smart or not as spiffy or not as rich, but who would enjoy learning a language all the same if just given the chance. Those slower moving kids have the right to do that, non? Or do they not have that right to study on past just one year or so if they like it, if it helps them grow up a bit and makes them feel that they can do something thus helping their self esteem in a world (the American high school) where slower moving kids are basically screwed from the first day of their freshman year? Honestly, is it too radical to suggest that we might consider trying to make American high schools places where kids get to develop socially and personally or does it all have to be about academic achievement? Must we continue the present model where rich white females get to be in the highest level language classes because they memorize verb forms best?

            Sorry for the rant there but that is what I see as the core issue on your excellent question. Now for a more practical response. Would not the slower kids eventually lose anyway to the smarter and faster ones who can jump higher anyway, the ones who sit in class not so much to learn as to compete and win? Does a 1, 2, 3, 4 system based on what Jeff described really make it unfair for the smarties? Are the slower moving kids really such a threat to those who would move faster through the proficieny levels? Are the poor really a threat to the rich? Won’t those kids be going to college on the strength of overall higher grades and “better” letters of recommendation and larger bank accounts in their parents’ banks anyway? Is a level playing field over four years for all the kids really some kind of threat to those who would have a problem with this plan of renaming levels to reflect the actual proficiency level of the student, as Jeff described in his comment. OK that was a rant too. I guess I have no practical and useful answer to those who would object to this new idea being implemented in their high school. Hey, I tried.

            I would like to add the thought that I feel as if my questions above are better, more humane questions than the objecting questions and comments that would be asked by people who would oppose this new idea, who do not really understand how CI instruction brings EQUALITY to American high schools. My questions above are based on what is good for all students. The questions of the admins and your department and the counselors would be based on what is best for the privileged students in the building. Screw that.

  6. This is so bang-on. I have a very smart level 2 kid who got grammar grind the year before last (ie this is his first tprs year) and he’s outperforming the kids who had tprs last year. I have other kids who at level 2 STILL cannot keep verb tenses straight but who can understand everything they read. The spread is HUGE even within a group who’ve all had the same teaching.

    My only concern is– if you have 2 levels in 1 class, you have to come up with new stories for level 1, so as not to bore the level 2 kids.

  7. The key in any mixed group is to find what we have in common.

    One thing we have in common is a desire to understand what is happening, in a language situation, what is being said. As long as there is a commitment to understand one another we can work together.

    As has been mentioned here in many ways by Ben, comprehended language brings us together.

    Language unites us , but grammar divides us. It divides us into convenient groupings for grammar teachers. Grammar shows who is “smarter” and who is not.

  8. Yes and, as a big admirer of the Force, I tend to think that the languages given to us, those beautiful languages that have the potential to convey so much between us, were created for everybody to use, not just smart people, intellectual car mechanics, linguists and/or high school teachers and their favorite students.

    I don’t know, but what makes me think that the divine plan on this language deal may have been for everybody is that every single person born in a country can understand and speak the language of their country fluently after a certain amount of time. Just time, not smarties. Call me crazy.

  9. I love this thread.
    ALL students acquire, but at DIFFERENT rates.
    We definitely see this in our single level classes now.

    The gaps in my class are HUGE. Every class has a new kid who has never had Spanish, and then I have a few kids who get pulled for math & reading support, so they only attend my class half the time, and on the other end, I have plenty of bilingual, Portuguese and English speakers. Portuguese being so similar to Spanish, these kids are lightyears processors. I had a Brazilian-American student tell me that she understands everything and that I speak too slowly, but that she loves the class. And I even have a few native speakers. The beauty of compelling CI is that it isn’t boring even to the native speaker, because we are not teaching language, we’re just delivering interesting messages.

    My adult Spanish class has always had a huge gap, adults coming in with wide ranges of experiences with the language. My class has students that have had 20 hours of my class, others who have had 10, and just tonight, I got 2 new adult beginner students. Only once did I have a student who was so far ahead that her output was largely incomprehensible to the rest of the students and, boy, did she like to talk. And get this, despite the fact that she already had a lot of Spanish she told me that she still got a lot out of the course.

    The net hypothesis (i+1) was designed for this!!! In fact, mixed level classes make me a better teacher, because I deliver more natural CI. Trying to challenge the more advanced, but stay comprehensible for the beginners, I remember to NOT shelter grammar. Differentiation, baby! haha. I gesture/TPR just about EVERYTHING. Then, everyone understands the message, so everyone can improve, but they are understanding at different levels. For that reason, the same students could take the same class again the next year, but being at a higher level “i,” they can still benefit!

    The amount of instruction hours in a school year doesn’t amount to much in the big acquisition picture. There’s just SO MUCH to a language.

  10. …the beauty of compelling CI is that it isn’t boring even to the native speaker, because we are not teaching language, we’re just delivering interesting messages….

    So well said, and thank you Eric for that sentence. And we thought we were teaching language…. We deliver messages. That’s it. End of conversation. We don’t need to worry anymore about if we are a good teacher or not. Are we delivering interesting messages that the students focus on? Are we circling our way to that goal in each class? Then we are doing our job. However, the minute we focus on the language and not the message in our classes is the minute we stop doing our jobs properly. There is a already a name for that. Grammar teaching.

    1. …the beauty of compelling CI is that it isn’t boring even to the native speaker, because we are not teaching language, we’re just delivering interesting messages….

      Isn’t that the distinguishing element of authentic materials? I.e., they are written to deliver a message to native speakers (as opposed to materials written to teach language). Is so, then perhaps there is more authentic material in our classrooms than we give ourselves credit for.

  11. Nice point, Nathaniel. A thing to add to that would be that a text might become authentic when the reader can handle it, as long as it is interesting. He then is not reading to understand what the words say, but reading to get a message that he wants to receive. That’s kind of authentic. What really is an authentic text? This question kind of tags onto the question I posted from Corinne today.

  12. “authentic text” to these people means “a text written by native/fluent speaker for other native/fluent speakers”

    The argument for me isn’t about what it means to be an “authentic text,” but rather that texts like that do only very little for the novice language learner.

  13. This from Krashen on moretprs:

    “Two definitions of authentic
    1. written by and for native speakers
    2. comprehensible and interesting
    Only (2) is relevant to us.”

    And T. Waltz had an awesome response:

    “We don’t give first-graders calculus problems ‘so they get used to being challenged by math’ and figure out ‘they won’t always be able to get the answer right away’. We give them things at their level so they can build their skills. We don’t feed babies adult food ‘because they’re going to have to eat it sooner or later’ either. . . I will bet — and I’ll try it at the end of the year — that my Chinese 1s, who have never read official ‘authentic resources’, only ‘silly stories’, will be able to make sense of a piece of authentic writing just as well as students who ‘practiced’ doing so all year. But the difference is, mine can read. Really read. . . We don’t value ‘having them struggle’. “

  14. Martina sent me a link to her article on Authentic Resources because I FB-ed the need to talk with a TPRS supporter after a class on 21st-century education in which the teacher said that authentic resources are the only ones we should be using. I argued. Martina calmed my nerves because she had already written everything I wanted to say to the presenter, who has been shooting me emails and evil looks because I won’t capitulate.

    Next up: I love mixed levels AFTER level 1. Level 1, second semester, is already at different levels, and by the time kids get to second year, they are more diverged. I have a class I call “Intermediate,” which I aim at 2nd year kids, but which has year 3 and 4 kids in it. Then I have “Advanced,” which is aimed at level 4 kids, but also has year 2, 3, 5 and AP kids. These aren’t perfect, and it happens because I don’t have enough kids for a solid level anything above level 2, but it works most of the time because kids can take the class the period that works best for them (or their schedules). The biggest problem is reading. I am always having to create everything new, since they’ll be with me for up to three years in these mixed groups.

    Finally, I figured out something the other day. I am a grammar teacher! I figured that out in the 21-st C class mentioned above, where we’re having to put together units based on Important Questions. (That’s not the right term. I’m sure you know it.) It seems that a teacher needs a lot of little activities to answer those questions with the kids.

    I don’t mean to knock it, but here’s how I’ve been teaching the last few years: I pull out some structures and go with them for a while, talking, asking, storytelling, playing, reading, writing, and repeating. When the kids talk or write, I find myself focusing on the mistakes that cause misunderstandings. Often those are grammar mistakes. Those structures (or different ways to say them) become part of my next lessons. Some of them are in every lesson. The form “he/she/I have” is in every lesson, since it’s so important and kids don’t seem to really get it for about four years.

    I was trying to explain this to the 21st C teacher (who thinks that the TPRS teachers in her circle are too loosey-goosey), and she said, “We all revert to the way we were taught. We all need new tools.” But I wasn’t taught this way. I was taught by little charts, ALM, and the grammar-translation method. It took me a long time to learn Russian. I think that most TPRS teachers are, in effect, following grammar structures, even though none of us talk about it that way. I wonder whether anyone here would agree with me, and more to the point, whether if we advertised this fact, that people like the 21st C lady would be more interested in TPRS/CI. Nah. But I might start explaining the method this way.

    Just in case you’re still reading, you know what? When it came down to making lists of everything the kids needed to know to “do” this unit I’m building, it turned out they already know most of the required vocabulary and structures AND cultural information, just because we have told stories in which they needed those. And I haven’t done a unit like this once with them. I have a funny feeling that it’s going to be a great display lesson, and then I’m going to take a few things I learned and waltz back into telling stories for the rest of the year. No…I’m going to go back to my rigorous, data-driven, grammar-based, student-led narratives.

    1. Doesn’t Blaine always say that he’s looking for where students “break down” and then he focuses his CI and questions for actors around those breakdowns? Doesn’t he talk about “teaching for mastery?” That is related to what you’re saying Michele, right? Choosing structures that kids haven’t mastered. . .

      I think you bring up a really interesting point, one that I’ve recently been thinking more and more about. To what extent can TCI control/influence what a student acquires and when? We probably all exert some “control” when we notice student mistakes and base our CI on those mistakes. I think there’s a range of TCI practices, from no grammar pop-ups and unsheltered grammar to frequent grammar pop-ups and sheltered grammar. Surely, traditionalists would find the latter version of TCI/TPRS easier to swallow.

      I’ve been thinking a lot about how to make my TCI instruction coincide more and more with Krashen’s net hypothesis/non-targeted input. I am looking for ways to free up, make more natural, the input I provide, while staying comprehensible. I’ve found MovieTalk conducive to this unshackled approach and I want to explore it more in my TPRS. I think one way is to make every subsequent TPRS scene in the story a higher level “embedded listening.” Also, I think some of the TPRS Readers need to make more attempts at natural, unsheltered text, rather than being written entirely in 1 tense. Isn’t an important goal to make the input as natural as possible?

      I’ve posted to this blog before what I think about structures. I think ideally they are a CI tool, just like gestures and visuals, to be used to provide as natural CI as possible. When the kids hear the structure, although in a different tense or embedded in different sentences, knowing the meaning of the structure helps kids understand the message. When they understand the message, doesn’t the verb tense and other non-targeted grammar get 1 more rep to contribute to acquisition?

      A structure consists of vocabulary and grammar. We can get students to acquire the vocabulary with repetition, especially when done in multiple contexts, but we’ll be less successful at getting students to acquire the grammar.
      E.g.: Structure = “Takes it.” Kids will probably be able to use “takes” and “takes it” and understand the “it” in other input contexts, but I would not expect the kid to have acquired direct object pronouns.

Leave a Comment

  • Search

Get The Latest Updates

Subscribe to Our Mailing List

No spam, notifications only about new products, updates.

Related Posts

Stendra Super Force generico all’ingrosso

Stendra Super Force generico all’ingrosso Valutazione 4.6 sulla base di 352 voti. Nome del prodotto: Stendra Super Force Categoria: Disfunzione Erettile Nome commerciale: Extra Super

The Problem with CI

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to

CI and the Research (cont.)

To view this content, you must be a member of Ben’s Patreon at $10 or more Unlock with PatreonAlready a qualifying Patreon member? Refresh to



Subscribe to be a patron and get additional posts by Ben, along with live-streams, and monthly patron meetings!

Also each month, you will get a special coupon code to save 20% on any product once a month.

  • 20% coupon to anything in the store once a month
  • Access to monthly meetings with Ben
  • Access to exclusive Patreon posts by Ben
  • Access to livestreams by Ben