What Does "Mixed Ability" Mean?

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  • Written By: Rebecca Harkin
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 06 October 2019
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Mixed ability is a term with two meanings. One of the meanings of mixed ability is as a politically correct phrase used to describe someone who is abnormal physically or mentally. Mixed ability can also refer to students of different physical or mental abilities that are taught together in a single classroom.

A person who has a physical or mental handicap or abilities that differ from a normal person’s abilities is more frequently being referred to as having mixed abilities. As of 2011, this term is gradually gaining acceptance as a more appropriate replacement for such terms as handicapped, crippled, disabled, or mentally retarded. People who champion this expression feel the value of the term is in the objective nature of the saying. The term mixed ability does not have any connotations associated with it, allowing a person with a disability to be referred to without judgment or insult.


Mixed ability can also refer to an educational movement in which children of different physical, mental, learning, and even language abilities are placed together in a classroom. The idea behind classrooms comprised of children with differing abilities is that the children without these learning barriers can help teach the students with these difficult challenges. In this situation, able students can act as role models demonstrating positive and strong learning skills. They can also show the challenged students that material can be learned. In return, the role models gain confidence, communication skills, reinforce their learning by teaching, and may even strengthen their compassion for others.

There are several advantages for challenged students in a classroom of differing abilities. Most importantly, these students require more individual attention and in the mixed ability classroom they gain peer teachers to guide them. Challenged students are also often motivated and encouraged by the accomplishments of their peers. Finally, these students gain the experience of working as a team.

On the other hand, there are some disadvantages to a classroom filled with children of varying abilities. First, teaching children of differing abilities takes abundant planning and forethought, requiring teachers to come up with activities that will teach the material, that are possible for the challenged students, and that are hard enough to test the able students. Many opponents of this learning style argue that developing lesson plans that meet these difficult demands is impossible for every school day. As a result, lesson plans become geared toward either the able group or the challenged group, but not both. In the end, opponents worry that the able students become bored and eventually disinterested in school and the challenged students feel frustrated and inadequate.


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