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Best way to group your children - advice please

Discussion in 'Primary' started by iamagoodgirl, Aug 18, 2011.

  1. I have always grouped by ability and used writing ability as the main guide. For some things I might mix them up a bit but it is usually by ability. I sit with the least able.
    I know that is probably a dated way of doing things. In September I want to be brave (or modern) and NOT just use abiilty. What do others do and where to you place you children who cannot write independently. I will have a largely low ability Year 3 with several children having been given a Level 1 at the end of Key Stage 1. Behaviour wise I think (for the first time in quite a while) it is not much of an issue. Only 1 needs to be tied up with shoes removed (so to speak but not literally - honest but think he's more a problem verally - just imagine having a gobby Year 10 - he's actually 7 but thats the standard of his language).
  2. Hello,
    I am an NQT just starting in September in a year 5 class, so I have just finished Uni.
    I am organising my children into groups of mixed ability. I have arranged a seating arrangement/plan where I have 5 tables of 6 children, so every child is sitting next to their partner. I decided on the pairings by making sure they are the same gender, e.g. girl sitting next to girl, but each table is a mix, either one or two male or female pairs. When deciding who sits next to who, I spoke to previous class teachers who told me the children who work well together, and the ones who are easily distracted, and should sit next to quieter childen.
    The children will stay in these places, if they work, for the first term, then I will probably change it to add variety for the next term. The only time they will move into ability groups is in Maths, where they are set with the other 2 year 5 classes, and guided reading. As a teacher in the other lessons, I will spread my time equally between groups - sitting with one group in one lesson, then another the next so I can work with different guided groups each lesson, and make assessments of the focus group each time. I do not like the idea of always sitting with the lower ability group - I think it is unfair on the other children who recieve less teacher support. Differentiation should be there to ensure that the lower ability pupils can get on independently, or with their partner or group support (another thing I took into account when planning the seating - not to put 2 lower ability students next to eachother)
    I understand this may be difficult to do with younger ones, but it worked well with my year 4's last year on my placement.
    Another thought, after marking, especially writing or maths, you may identify a common area where certain children are going wrong. This would then be a good opportunity to group these children together and work with them on this target area (guided writing or guided group work).
  3. I switched to using randomly drawn talk partners a few years back & wouldn't want switch back to ability grouping. We do a draw for partners & table groups (2 pairs) using named lolly sticks every fortnight, and the children sit in those pairs for everything except Maths which we teach in ability groups as there are 2 classes in the year group. I maintain some control by allocating which table the groups sit on - allows me to keep some of the chattier elements apart!
    The children seem to like the system and always remind me when it's time for a change. It's really good for encouraging the children to work with each other and gel as a group. They accept that even if they don't get on with their partner or find it frsutrating to work with someone of a very different ability it's only for a fortnight, then they might get the best mate I would never put them with as they chat!
    In Literacy I either take a selected group to the carpet/spare table so I can focus on a particular area, or choose one table to work with - this way I get to spend time with all the children over a Lit unit.
  4. minnieminx

    minnieminx New commenter

    Talk to your FS and year 1 colleagues and see what they do. Use some PPA time to observe a literacy lesson there.

    I tend to seat by ability, but do not sit with the least able any more than anyone else. Clear planning and differentiation with suitable tasks mean that all have something they can access.

    I sit by ability mainly so children can work together if they wish as all on the same table are doing the same task and so challenge each other.
  5. I think it is very important that children learn to work with children of different gender and ability etc. I constantly move the children around depending on what we are doing. For literacy and numeracy they are grouped in very fluid ability groups and move between groups depending on task. I sit with a different group each session (If a child has achieved level 1 at the end of year 2 then they will be able to work independently if they are given an appropriate task). I also wouldn't use reading or writing ability to group them for anything but those subjects, a confident reader isn't necessarily a good scientist. Other things I use very successfully are random talk partners which change every two weeks. These are chosen by drawing lolly pop sticks with the children's names on out of a pot (I never "fix" this, if I have two tricky children together then so be it, they need to learn to work together and it's my job to help them do that). Sometimes I will let the children choose to work in friendship groups, sometimes I will group them, sometimes I use the lolly sticks to form random groups, sometimes I let the children form teams by choosing two captains and letting them take turns to choose someone to join the opposing team.
    Also, think carefully before sitting an easily distracted child with a quiet one for any length of time as quiet children can find this very unsettling.
  6. Hi,
    One way I have seen working very well is getting the children to nominate (written, in secret) which two/three children they would like to sit with and organising them according to that to make mixed ability groupings. Although you might think it would lead to low level disruption it actually has had the reverse effect because the children know that if they choose not to work well together you will move them and so they have something to gain by working well.
    Grouping by ability has been shown (in maths teaching at least) to be ineffective in improving learning, although obviously work does have to be differentiated still. Mixed ability groups give the opportunity for weaker children to be supported by their peers and this strengthens the understanding of the higher ability children - retention rates are much higher when children are explaining and modeling like this. Obviously there are orgainisational benefits to grouping in ability and there is probably contrary research too, but everything I have seen points to single ability groups being ineffective at primary (and lower secondary) level.

  7. minnieminx

    minnieminx New commenter

    When I trained, as a maths teacher, there was evidence that proved beyond all doubt that setting and seating by ability was the most beneficial to learning. There was also evidence that proved beyond all doubt that mixed ability means children make most progress.

    So, do whatever works for you and your class.

    To be honest children working at level 5, do not need to explain and model work at level 1 in order to retain it. So, if you want mixed pairings, it might be better to have the children pairs with those just a couple of sublevels above or below them.
  8. Msz

    Msz Established commenter

  9. That link shows part of the research I mentioned, it was also reinforced by the Cambridge Review in 2009/10.
  10. Msz

    Msz Established commenter

  11. I like to have ability groups in the morning for Literacy, Numeracy and Guided Reading and then friendship groups in the afternoons and for registration where the children pretty much choose where they sit. My only rules are: 1. Sit with someone you know you will work well with, not someone you will talk to as you don't want to get into trouble, and 2. No tables of all boys or all girls.
    I also tell them that if I don't think it's working, I will choose who they sit with.
    I am always wary of sitting the children boy/girl or putting 'naughty' children next to 'good' children as I don't think it's fair. My daughter is a 'good' girl and one of her teachers used to sit her with the naughtiest, nastiest boys in the class. She hated it and wanted to know why she never sat with her friends. She even considered being naughty so she could be moved next to a good girl but it really isn't in her nature!
  12. I've seen grouping by gender work really well, although I have rarely tried it myself. As to ability grouping, the pendulum seems to swing between mixed- and ability- groupings. Currently, it's swinging back to mixed-ability so give it another 5 years or so before it changes back. Having taught a long time, I'm not sure that there is a single answer to this, or even that it has that much impact (I have seen brilliant lessons using either form of grouping)
    Personally, I am going with mixed-ability grouping this year, with ability groupings in maths. If I find that a group is not making much progress because of this, I'll change it. I'll try and give every child a chance to work alongside at least 4 different pupils over the year.
  13. bumblingbee

    bumblingbee New commenter

    I'm using a mixture of ability and behaviour. My next class ranges from L1 to L5 in both literacy and maths so I do not feel it would be appropriate to mix a very able child with a much less able one.
    Also in lessons where you need a level of talking or collaboration, I have found in the past that the more able (and often more confident child) will take charge and dominate the discussion or activity (and you can't be with all the children all the time). Not always though. I may also put a child who is just hovering below the level of another group of children with that group as that often stretches them a bit and can improve their achievement. Keep an eye on it though as it can wreck confidence in the wrong child.
    Commonsense is the key here. Yes keep an eye on the research but research is capable of finding two completely opposing viewpoints so use what works for your class. Also what works for one class one year may not work for your class the following year.
    Good luck
  14. I favour ability grouping in maths. We have begun setting in maths in my school and I will still have ability groups within my maths group and they will sit in ability for a lot of the lessons. Sometimes they will work with friends or random groups to give them a change.
    In guided reading, and in some literacy lessons (depending on the focus of the lesson) I do ask the children to sit in their reading ability groups. Not for all literacy lessons though, as often the better readers can support the poorer readers in group activities.
    They sit in mixed ability groups for everything else. I do make sure that children of the highest ability don't end up sitting right next to any of the children who struggle, as the children are old enough and aware enough to compare themselves to their peers. It can be frustrating for the high flyers to slow right down and demotivating to the AN children to see how much better one of their friends is.
    I'd like to give random partners a try, but have some children who find change very difficult and am thinking twice about it for that reason.
  15. I know it's hard not to some times but I hate it when teachers say this about children, nothing like give a dog a bad name. If a teacher is going to pass comment then it should be constructive e.g. little Joe gets agitated when there is a change in routine but I've found X helps. I prefer to make up my own mind about children when they come to my class, some children and teachers just don't click not the fault of the child or the teacher it just happens. I had a child come to my class from another school that I was told was very disruptive and aggressive, I didn't have any problems with them at all, in fact I actually questioned that it was the same child they were talking about (it was).
  16. You can buy packs of lollipop sticks that come in different colours so you could colour code and give yourself some options for keeping certain children apart.
    I personally favour a mixture of ability grouping and mixed ability grouping - at times I prefer children to work on a task with children of different abilities, particularly if it is a paired or group task. There are other times where I want to give tasks that are related to the children's ability so they will sit in ability groups.
  17. I'm in a school that is opening in September so we don't have our own records of ability, behaviour and so on until these come through from previous schools - if I decide to just randomly assign groupings, how long do you think is a suitable amount of time to wait before re-arranging according to ability/behaviour and so on?
  18. Can I ask a question or two please? Some of you may think this is silly but when i did GTP we set for Literacy and Numeracy and then had mixed ability places for everything else (children also had places for Guided reading according to ability).
    During my NQT year, one school was set for numeracy the other was in class groups, but the guidance from my partner teacher at the start of the year in my first school was to sit in ability groups (lit and numeracy) and also in these groups in the afternoons. I didn't like this in the afternoons so mixed the groups up. At my second school I had top set for numeracy and it was mixed 5/6 so as well as ability I also took year group into account too, but groups changed on a regular basis. I had ability groups for lit and guided reading and then mixed places for everything else. The children often worked better in MA groups but differentiation sometimes meant the need for ability groups.
    So on to the questions:
    1. If you are in mixed groups for lit and numeracy, how do you ensure that the children are doing the correctly differentiated work? One teacher I worked with in GTP year did a lot of self-sifferentiation where children chose where to start and after a week or two knew which kids she had watch as they often opted for the 'easy work' or the ones that perhaps thought they could do the work but struggled. At my first school, I used my literacy table colours in topic so even on MA tables children generally knew which work they were doing (with odd exceptions when i changed them).
    I like the idea of lollipop sticks/spoons for mixing groups up regularly (I use these for questioning to ensure everyone has to have an answer) but the logistics of the differentiation concern me.
    2. Also if you have a TA working with a group or you are working with a focus group, how do you manage this in mixed ability places?
    I am really struggling to make a decision this year as to what to do.
    I think I am going to use the spoons to group the children into teams on the first day and these can be their MA teams/tables for the first half term and working in these groups for the first week. I don't have any assessment data at the moment to group the children by ability and have planned some talk/group work for the first week and a piece of writing and a mental maths test to enable me to assess the children anyway.
  19. Personally I don't think it is any harder to set differentiated work when sitting in MA groups than it is working in single ability. The children all belong to ability groups for differentiation but don't sit in them routinely.
    If 'questions' are written on sheets then either I put the right sheet in the right book before the lesson or when leaving the carpet all of the 'triangles' come and get their questions and go and sit down and then the next group etc. If work is set from the board then that is no different at all. If the children know which group they are in then it is no different from saying 'x table'.
    For working with me I either work with the ability group on the carpet or on a set table and the displaced children fill in the empty seats.
    I would also say that regardless of setting (which my school will be doing) there are still going to be a mixture of abilities in the class, so even set classes can utilise mixed ability groups.
  20. Hi there,
    Table positions in my class is all dependent on the behaviour of the children.
    The first week i let the children sit where they want in class. This helps me to see where friendships groups are etc. The children know that if they continually misbehave in those seats then i will move them elsewhere. I have literacy seats and numeracy seats according to ability, so the children may move seats 3 times a day although this doesnt often happen. Throughout the term i allow some children to pick where they would like to sit. That way the quiet ones that you use as crowd control get to sit with their friends on occasion. Children know that if they have a problem or are sitting next to someone who distracts them that they can come to me and i will move either them or the other child. Last year's class were particularly difficult as there were about 6 children who were quite immature and spent most of the year annoying one another! The result was that 2 of them sat on their own for most of the day and only moved when they really had to!
    I did try putting all the nuisances on one table with the idea that they could annoy one another and leave the others alone but that was more trouble! Wont be trying that again! haha

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