Mixed Level Courses: Supportive Communities or Discoordinated Collections?

Graphic by Melanie Egan

Simone Lassar
News Reporter

While the transition from middle school to high school remains marked by new found responsibility, a greater variety of classes, and additional freedom, arguably the most distinct shift in education is the introduction of single level classes where students are surrounded by others of their like capability.

Yet, this distinction somewhat diminishes in senior year, where a vast number of classes revert back to a mixed level prototype. Some argue these mixed level courses create a greater sense of community, yet others disagree.

Senior year offers an incredible diversity of courses ranging from Film Studies, to African American Literature, to Race, Class, and Gender. These classes are comprised of more than one level such as College Prep, Advanced College Prep, Honors, or Advanced Placement.

Senior Amber Lee who takes African American Literature appreciates the benefits of having multiple levels in one classroom, although she did not register for these classes merely because they were mixed level.

“I do have to admit, ethics as appealing to me because I wasn’t sure what level I wanted to take. I knew it would be easier switching levels within the class than having to switch to an entirely different class, which would mess up my schedule,” Lee explained.

Lee’s concerns about scheduling echos that of other students who are unsure of which level fits their needs. It remains complicated to change levels during the year, as many South students know, so mixed levels offer an easy method to alter one’s course load.

Agreeing with Lee, senior Adin Henderson who takes African American Literature, adds that mixed level courses create cohesive classroom environment.

“I feel like mixed classes do create a greater sense of community. I enjoy both of the mixed level courses much more than the other courses that I am taking,” Henderson said.

This year, English teacher David Weintraub teaches Film Studies and African American Literature, and for five years, has not taught a single level course.

Weintraub emphasizes how mixed level classes offer a more diverse community than single levels because students are tracked in such a way that they tend to take classes with the same cohort of students; that means that by junior year, these students basically know the people they can expect to see in their classes.

Even with this diversification, Weintraub continues by highlighting that mixed level classes have both positive and negative effects.

“by senior year, I find that students are ready to take risks in ways that help them get past that unfamiliarity, and that help the community grow”

“This combination [of students] can be simultaneously positive and negative: positive because students are thrown out of their comfort zone a little and can be forced to redefine themselves in very meaningful ways; negative because some students close down when they perceive the environment to be unfamiliar and possibly judgmental. But on the whole, by senior year, I find that students are ready to take risks in ways that help them get past that unfamiliarity, and that help the community grow,” Weintraub said.

It can be difficult, for teachers, to construct a cohesive classroom environment, when the students are learning at different levels. But, when a teacher has the ability to create this sort of space, the results are rewarding.

On the other hand, senior Noah Kopf finds that a major drawback of mixed level courses is the increased workload placed on the teacher. Unlike a single level course, in the mixed levels, the teacher must write multiple versions of tests, homework assignments and classwork.

“I would rather not take a mixed class; because the teacher isn’t able to devote as much time to each curriculum. If [the teacher] has to spend time making two tests, they have less time to spend meeting with students,” Kopf said.

Weintraub agrees with Kopf’s concern of the discoordination in assignments, and states that there is a special scarcity of a single level course; however, Weintraub suggests that by senior year students are able to handle situations like this.

Mixed level classes have the unmistakable potential to build a supportive community, but it remains the responsibility of the teacher to create harmonious assignments, as well as the students to find value in the knowledge of their peers.

“Film Studies and African American Lit work so well as multi-levelled classes. All (okay, most) of the students who take it are there because they’re genuinely interested in the topic, so that’s the factor that can add to the community spirit of the room. If we all know that we’re there for the same reason, it can help us get over the hurdle of social, racial, and curricular divisions,” Weintraub explained.