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In class - ability groups or not?

Discussion in 'Primary' started by jdb75, Aug 13, 2015.

  1. jdb75

    jdb75 New commenter

    I'm looking at groupings for this coming year and considering not using ability tables and rather mixing the pupils up, putting them wit people I know they will work well with, regraess of ability. We've always set for maths and English, but now for th first time having the same class all day, although my groove are still generally the higher achievers. They range from a 3A to a 4A/5C.

    So do I was just wondering, do you use ability or some other way to group your tables? And what's your opinion on it?

  2. CarrieV

    CarrieV Lead commenter

    I don't have ability tables, the children can sit where they like ( for half a term at a time, they can;'t swap around as and when they like!) unless they show me they are unable to work effectively with their friendship groups! Then I move them!!

    The work is differentiated but for the majority of the time they can select the level of work they want to do. every now and again I ask them to have a go at the more challenging activities but they are usually pretty good at stretching themselves.
  3. asnac

    asnac Lead commenter

    The key thing with cooperative working is that the children stay on task, so in your situation it makes some sense to place them according to who they work best with rather than ability level, given that you have such a narrow spread.

    The problem then is that differentiation is always by outcome. Within this setup, there needs to be a way of providing challenging tasks for the higher ability ones.

    It would work much of the time, but not all the time. Have you considered table pairs with the children in rows?
  4. Lara mfl 05

    Lara mfl 05 Star commenter

    I must admit I'm going for a mixed ability approach. I took on a class ranging from level 2- level 5 (as was) in November last year. They had been set by ability and I found the self-esteem among the LA set particularly noticeable And yes the children are alwasy aware of the 'groups' aren't they!

    So I started something which had worked well at my previous school (an outstanding school), which was mixed ability pairings changed every half-term. The pairs were chosen 'at random' every time-in front of the children so they saw it was random and if a particular pairing is 'problematic', at least it's only for half a term. If a particularly bad mixture occurs you can always quickly swap the name you read out. Gets them used to working with different people and the 'social' aspect' can be particularly illuminating.

    This year I have a different gap and I'm going the 'mixed pairing' way-one LA/MA with one HA and swapping them half-termly.
  5. princess77

    princess77 New commenter

    In our school children are sat in mixed ability pairs. They are partners for a week and then swap. The desks are positioned so that everyone is facing the front of the classroom (less distractions, chat). This is based on formative assessment (Shirley Clarke).

    Last year I had a class with children from old low level 1 to high level 3s. Differentiation is through choice of task, especially for English and maths. I have one learning objective with 3 main differentiated tasks and the children select the one that is the right level for them. If they are unsure or select something too challenging or not challenging enough, I suggest they try a particular one and see me after 5 minutes. For children with SEN I have something else that will help them to make small steps progress to the main objective. At times when children need to try an activity with a partner of a similar ability they can move around for a lesson.

    It worked well last year despite my initial reservations. It's boosted the self esteem of my less able children and my middle ability children tried challenges I might have thought were too challenging. My more able have had to learn to explain their thinking.

    I'm looking forward to doing the same again in September.
  6. kash645

    kash645 New commenter

    I do sit my class in Maths and English ability tables in the mornings really just because there is such a wide spread of abilities levels 1-4. I also find that we can better target certain groups for support this way. I do have them in mixed ability tables in the afternoons. I find that the pupils like sitting with different pupils and groups and it can help them to get along better if they're moving around throughout the day. I teach Year 4. I know that in Year 5 and 6 our children are seated more similarly to how they are seated at high schools.
  7. I find this really interesting and I am wondering what to do for my new Year 5 class.

    I don't really like ability groups. But in terms of planning, resources and seating, I am a little nervous to make a huge change when I've only been teaching for two terms.

    In the past, children have worked in mixed ability 'home' places, then moved to groups for English and Maths. However, as an NQT I followed what was already in place as I started in January. This also meant differentiated objectives sometimes, more so in maths than in english.

    I am not sure whether to continue with this (I'm moving schools), or leave the children in these mixed tables for all lessons and then let them choose challenges for themselves? E.g. numbered, coloured or other names for challenges. I do think this would stretch some. However, I also worry about those who then get completely baffled.

    If working in pairs, are the mixed pairs all doing the same work/objective?

    (I'm thinking along the lines of some children working with 3d numbers whilst others move to 4, 5, 6 digits etc)

    Does this mean someone quite low ability in maths would be working alone most of the time as they may not access the work that their partner is accessing?

    Or is it still ok to have focus groups on different days with ability groups?

    Sorry for all the questions...

    In my last class I had a 'help' table at the front for maths where children could come to at any point in the lesson. Once they were used to it, I felt it worked well. However it also meant that working with a group had to be very flexible...and sometimes it was the same children who lacked confidence.

    Any ideas and advice are welcome.

  8. squirrel9367

    squirrel9367 New commenter

    I work in a similar way to others on here with mixed groups for everything except a session in the morning that focuses on reading, spelling and grammar for 30 minutes where I have them in reading groups.

    I pair the children up within the group so they have a similar level partner if needed but otherwise they are mixed ability. I either tell them to work with their partner or not to work with their partner when doing paired work.

    They choose their own challenge from *, **, *** or a challenge activity, and can change if it is too hard or too easy. They are now very good at moving on when they feel they are ready and have made very good progress. It took training at the beginning and for the children to realise it wasn't a competition (they are year 3 and 4). I do a pitstop after two minutes and ask them to check if they need to change. I used this in my last school with a bottom set of three for maths and some of the lowest children (SEN) made 4+ sub levels progress in a year and were very motivated by being able to choose harder work. You soon learn which children need watching when choosing their challenge.

    I had an extra table last year so it was easy to pull children together to work with those I needed to. I allow children to start work after some of the input if they are confident but carry on teaching for those that need more. This year I will have to be more creative about how to bring children together but I have acquired a bench to go in front of the whiteboard that I can use for teaching at.
  9. That sounds like a good idea, thanks for the info.

    Just to clarify- within each table/group there are similar ability pairs? how many are on a table?

    Thinking I might need to make some changes...it is so helpful hearing all these good ideas and the positive impacts they can have :)
  10. squirrel9367

    squirrel9367 New commenter

    There are 6 on a table - roughly 2 HA 2MA and LA - a spread of ability for English and maths. I choose these groups but the children also have times when they work in self chosen groups.
  11. CarrieV

    CarrieV Lead commenter

    Whereas my children have self chosen groups at all times. I also have a "withdrawal table" So when working with a guided group in English, guided reading or maths, they come to me-that way the rest of the class know not to interrupt unless they have exhausted all other options ( I have a 4B4ME policy) . It means that there might be only one person on a table of 6 working on a specific activity but they can discuss with others if they get stuck!
  12. summlard

    summlard New commenter

    I have the children in ability groups for maths and English. Mixed for everything else.

    I have tried mixed for all but I found pushing the uppers harder when mixed as they weren't altogether to work individually on something with.
  13. CarrieV

    CarrieV Lead commenter

    It's quite interesting, if they select their own seats you tend to end up with rough ability tables anyway!!
  14. summlard

    summlard New commenter

    This is very true CarrieV^^.

    A lot of friendships are within similar abilities. I find with girls especially.
  15. Msz

    Msz Established commenter

    I don't have groups that solves the problem
  16. americanateach

    americanateach New commenter

    I really dislike ability grouping. I've never seen it done in classrooms in the U.S. so I was quite put off when my last English school insisted on ability groups. I felt the children on the LA table were really held back.

    My new school isn't as fussed, so I plan to go back to mixing it up a bit and putting the kids with other children I know they get on with. Plus, I really like giving the HA the ability to explain their learning, and helping out their peers is ideal.
  17. Sillow

    Sillow Lead commenter

    The past year I didn't have groups. Children were sat on mixed ability tables, giving me freedom to sit children with people they could work well with and who would support them. If I and/or my TA needed to work with a certain group of children, they were called to a specific table at the beginning of transition from carpet to table. For some subjects, particularly Maths, I had different ability activities and at the end of the input the children could choose their level of challenge. It worked very well and I feel the children were more relaxed and able to work better - they had a level of independence to make choices about their learning and when they attempted and achieved at higher-level work they were so proud to tell me!

    If I wasn't in Reception this year, I'd definitely do it the same way again.
  18. Andrew Jeffrey

    Andrew Jeffrey New commenter

    I'm so encouraged to read of more and more schools braving this move. Like many initiatives, sitting children in ability groups was never going to fit all, yet for years so many schools have had a non-negotiable attitude towards this.

    Admittedly it requires a bit more careful planning, but no longer should we be faced with children who believe themselves to be bottom-set material and who act accordingly.

    As CarrieV said, and summlard alluded, there are obviously times when you might want to pull out a specific group of children, but that is s long way from having all of them in set groups.

    One great strategy for the quick-graspers (I prefer that to HAPs personally) is to sit a pair of them together with a slightly slower pair; everyone benefits, since the way to assess mastery is surely to listen to them trying to explain to each other and someone else.

    Off soapbox, back to work now...
  19. Lara mfl 05

    Lara mfl 05 Star commenter

    Which, certainly for me at least, is one of the big bonuses of 'mixed ability' groupings/pairings.
  20. Milgod

    Milgod Established commenter

    I have ability groups in maths (although these aren't 'hard' groups in that children can easily move between them). We do a rotation lesson in maths and it makes things really easy. The children love it as well and I get to see every group in every lesson.

    English . . .I might try completely mixed groups next year or just go off groups completely. Let children select their work as others have said on here. I think I'll still pick the groups (mostly anyway) as there are too many 'interesting' combinations in my new class.

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