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'Ability' groups in maths

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by nerllybird, Mar 7, 2013.

  1. I'll settle for rare. Thank you.

  2. I'm not quite sure what you mean by this.
    The type of grouping I do not like is that which splits children up into so-called 'ability groups' within a classroom. This is the sort of grouping I am focusing on. I am not, therefore, focusing on the sort of grouping which is known as 'streaming' and which consists of separating an entire year group across two or three classrooms for a maths lesson.
    So. You cited the former arrangement, I pointed out that you were simply repeating what I had already said, and then I mentioned it again later on.
    You seem unable to follow a simple train of thought, yet you imply that my thinking is incoherent. You tell me to 'grow up', yet you cannot refrain from adding these comments to the thread which are nothing but low-level childish spite.
    I have more important things to do than feed your troll habit. You need a bigger class. Or a better hobby.
  3. Thank you for your interest! To be honest, the only person who has had to listen to my plan so far is one of my tutors, who interviewed me for the PGCE. I'm reluctant to expose myself to ridicule, which seems likely on this thread. However. It's nothing particularly earth-shattering. It involves a fluid seating arrangement which at any one point is based on each child's current understanding of, and confidence with, the concept being learned. In a large classroom (I have seen two or three large enough) it would mean having three separate areas. In a smaller classroom (the usual sort of size where you're constantly saying oops sorry) it would depend on having a few empty seats round a spare table - rather like those games where there is a tile missing from a frame and you have to slide the others around it.
    The point of it is that the children don't 'settle' in any one place until they have had a go at the concept and decided how confident they are with it. And then they can move again once their confidence increases. I would also encourage those who feel more confident, to help those who do not. I have noticed that there isn't a lot of support for this last idea, which surprises me because I have always found that having to explain something to someone else, even if you think you have 'got' it, tends to expose areas of weakness in that understanding. And likewise, the act of explaining strengthens existing understanding.
    I'm not for a moment suggesting that this is some sort of perfect solution. For a start, it involves children moving around. For me this is a plus, as I have noticed that left alone for five minutes whilst trying to solve a problem, children will quite naturally get out of their seats to go and work with a friend. Even if you think you have already paired them up nicely. I also think that this sort of dynamic, energetic arrangement reflects the attitude I would like children to have towards maths.
    Secondly, it could get a bit messy, with people tripping over each other and trying to sit in the wrong place. But I really do think that these issues, like so many others such as giggling in Drama, will naturally fade away once children are used to new ways of working.
    I should point out, of course, that the children would need support with this. Initially with the whole idea of moving to table x if you need a bit of extra help, or table y if that's where the nearly-theres are - alongside the obvious support with learning the concept.
    So it would require quite a lot of work by the teacher. Assessing children's understanding, encouraging them to work in appropriate groupings, modifying these as the lesson progresses, and providing input to move the actual learning forward. You would have to provide extension activities (I'm quite keen on a series of cards, but that's a different discussion). And behaviour management.
    On the plus side, there wouldn't be three different activities to organise. If you have a decent TA then that would help. I would hope that the children would find it more engaging. Your assessment of children's learning would be facilitated. The children would hopefully find maths less scary and depressing. The poor beggars in the 'low ability' group will be the no-hopers no more.
    Feel free to rip it to pieces. There are other snags, I know. But I won't be able to refine it until I have been able to try it. And I will try and persuade someone to let me!

  4. Ooh, didn't see this. Yes, that sort of thing. Anything but the Table of No Hope.

  5. I would like to answer your question, but I fear it may be sarcastic. In which case the answer you have in mind will not be the one I would offer.
    I have decided to ignore sarcasm on this thread, so I would appreciate it if you would be kind enough to let me know whether your question is genuine. And then I can answer it. At length, probably, which won't do anyone any good.

  6. PaulDG

    PaulDG Occasional commenter

    No, it's not meant to be sarcastic.
    "Setting by table" is used as part of a classroom management process - teachers need ways to differentiate their questioning style, levels of responses they expect, etc, that take into account the different skill levels within the class.
    It's not a trivial thing to do. It's certainly not possible to regard a class of 30 as 30 individuals all the time.
    So, as you will find out when you're responsible for 30 kids (not just a few at a table), all day every day, that you will need as many "tricks" you can get to cope with the level of work involved if you are actually going to be able to discharge your job to your own satisfaction let alone anyone else's.
    And you will certainly need to give some clues to potential supply teachers should you ever be sick or off on a training course and they will not have the time to get to know your 30 individuals.
    Teaching really isn't as easy as it looks.
  7. Okay, thanks. I understand what you are saying. But I'm talking about maths, remember - I wouldn't be doing this in every subject. I have actually taught a few maths lessons, albeit as cover (yes, I know, it's not allowed, tell that to the HT. In fact, the union already has), and I felt reasonably well equipped to differentiate questioning/expectations of responses etc, based on what I knew of the children. I still recognised them when they weren't sitting in 'ability' groups! (That was gentle sarcasm, not meant to be unpleasant...[​IMG])
    I have never thought teaching looked particularly easy; six years working alongside teachers has demonstrated to me that is isn't.
    As for the supply teachers - I can only speak about the school I worked in, but as a TA I have sat through many of their lessons. And on very few occasions was there any evidence that they cared very much about clues to the children's attainment. That's not to negate your point, though, which was a good one and probably very relevant in many other schools. I will bear it in mind.

  8. Interesting, thank you for taking the time to explain. It doesn't really sound like mixed ability teaching to me, as the students are still doing activities that are chosen by ability. Or perhaps I am wrong, and it's more to do with "confidence" than "ability". I suspect in practice it would be by "friendship group". However, there are elements of what you describe in my own teaching. If the class size allows we have an empty table that students can opt in to and sit at for 10 minutes to get a bit more support. I am currently using this with my 8s, 12s and 13s because they are small enough groups.
  9. frustum

    frustum Star commenter

    You would still need differentiated activities for many topics. That might be differentiation in terms of the numbers used, so not necessarily completely different. There's much to be said for some self-selection of difficulty, but this takes some training, and you might need to direct some children more than others. I'm not sure about the idea of changing table mid-lesson as a rule - sometimes it would be better to follow an activity through rather than do a few minutes and then switch. I know that we might sometimes be able to see quickly that a switch would be beneficial, but I'd be very wary of children making that decision themselves - they might not realise that they've not reached the trickiest bit of the task.

  10. I do prefer the word 'confidence' to 'ability'. I've been using the term 'less confident' for some time because it seems more accurate. I genuinely don't see how we can put a ceiling on children's abilities. The children I have worked with often seemed preoccupied with the unfairness of it - at least if they had tried something and experienced difficulty with it, they would have understood why they were being taught in a different group. (You could say, I suppose, that I was talking about the children's ability to do a certain thing, at a certain time, which is subject to change?)
  11. Thank you, those are very useful points.

  12. I don't agree that teaching by ability puts an unfair cap on attainment. It's like the parents that argue for their child to be entered for the Higher tier as if that will magically make them capable of attaining more than a grade D. I wouldn't be tempted to try your idea because it requires a lot of effort and time for little benefit. However, I can't see why you couldn't try it out with a class. I would let you try it if your training placement was in my department.
  13. Guish

    Guish New commenter

    I use the word knowledge rather than ability. I had a parent meeting yesterday and I chose the words carefully. For instance, I'll say that the student doesn't have the required knowledge to do so and so exercises. Mathematics at any level requires presumed knowledge at an inferior level.

  14. Thank you. That's encouraging.
  15. I like that, thank you. I substituted the word knowledge for the word ideas in a question this week because it seemed more appropriate.
  16. Just for the record, and if anyone is still interested (!), not only have I discovered that one of the schools I wish to apply to, has stopped setting ability groups in maths; it turns out that my second block placement school (an outstanding one) also teaches maths in mixed ability groups! Guess who's a happy bunny....:D

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