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Pros and Cons of setting for maths?

Discussion in 'Primary' started by vegaslady, Dec 18, 2007.

  1. Hi
    There are 3 parallel Y3/4 classes of 35 each in our school and we are struggling with the huge differentiation as 4s are very good and 3s very weak. Have discussed setting just for maths which I am in favour of but I want to present HT with a balanced argument.
    Do you set? Why/whynot? What works well? What's the down side?
  2. Hi
    There are 3 parallel Y3/4 classes of 35 each in our school and we are struggling with the huge differentiation as 4s are very good and 3s very weak. Have discussed setting just for maths which I am in favour of but I want to present HT with a balanced argument.
    Do you set? Why/whynot? What works well? What's the down side?
  3. You will probably find as many arguements as there are posters on here. I know that Hawk is dead against setting so it would be worthwhile hearing from him.

    I have only ever taught in schools that set and have taught all abilities in different years. I think it is easier to target each pupil when working with a smaller ability range. Pupils do not see the diversity of ability in the same room. It is easier to build pupil confidence.

    We are working towards joint planning so that pupils from adjacent groups are able to access work of a different level if appropriate so that the gap between groups does not widen due to lack of challenge.
  4. lardylegs

    lardylegs Occasional commenter

    We have been setting for the first time this year (HT was very anti before). It is SO much better, now I have 30 kids in the room who are roughly at the same stage, no super-brain whizzkids shouting out "Done it" every two minutes, and no kids sitting their with that vacant glazed look which means they don't get a single thing you're on about. Can differentiate to three levels and do loads more whole class teaching.
  5. lardylegs

    lardylegs Occasional commenter

    Downside? Well, I suppose the ones who have to go 'down' feel a bit **** about themselves....
  6. Do they really feel bad if the are 'down' I'm not so sure. If they are in a group where they feel they are ok at something surely that is better than being on the bottom table in a room. Children are not stupid. Even if we don't tell them they know who in the room are the bright kids and who are the 'thick' ones. (Not my words obviously!)
  7. inq


    We set - and I really like it (I'm teaching Y6's working at 2a-3b whereas top group are all L5's) but when we had a class maths day it really helped the lower ones to hear the top one's explanations of how they'd tackled problems.
  8. The research evidence suggests that overall, setting doesn't work. Yes, the higher ability children progress more quickly, but the lower ability children progress more slowly. Overall, one piece of research (there isn't much of it about) found that children in mixed ability classes score on average 7% higher than children in setted classes.

    However, this might be more to do with teacher expectations than setting. The teacher expects the more able to do well, and expects the less able to struggle. Also might be due to a tendency in some schools to give the less able group to the less able Maths teacher, and vice versa. So consider these factors too.

    The main advantage of setting is for the teacher, not the children. Setting means teachers have to cater for a narrower ability range, so differentiation is less onerous.

    But setting means breaking down the close bond between a class teacher and a class, and why give that up for something that doesn't actually improve overall attainment? In the current atmosphere of trying to attain maximum achievement, we may be losing the pastoral benefits of primary teaching.
  9. thehawk

    thehawk Occasional commenter

    the dangers are low expectations.
    Maths also those who are poor at number aren't necessarily poor at shape, say, so how would you deal with that?
    It is restrictive on timetabling (your lesson has to last the exact amount of time, and you can't say, I'll just do ten more minuites as they've nearly got it, as they have to go back.
    How would you deal with parents evening? Would parents have to see three diffierent teachers - tutor group, literacy teacher and numeracy teacher, or would you rely on notes which don't always help when the parent says "what about such and such" and you can't answer because you don't teach them maths, and its not covered in the notes.
    You can't do a topic based approach.
    How would you plan in order that all chidlren are covering say fractiosn at the same time at their own level, or does this matter?
    I could go on, but I'm tired.
  10. We set for maths 4 times a week in Y3/4. One day is problem solving/investigation with your own class. I've got the less able group and it's great.
    My aim is to fill in gaps in their understanding and consolidate what they do know. My aim is to get low 2c KSI to strong 2a, and 2b to 3c by the end of the year, as I have done the previous 3 years. We use games, mental maths, huge range of different strategies, learning styles and all that jazz. It's one of the most stimulating lessons to plan for, and the children enjoy it. They're moving from thinking they can't to thinking that they can. After that, the learning speeds up, even for all the SEN.
    I have ability groups within my set, and if you are ace at shape, but rubbish at division, you move to a different group for that activity, or you have a supported group, or any other strategy that works.
    The able ones get extended in the top set and it works well for us.
    Parents evenings, well we write notes. The parents can always pop in and see one of us if they want to at a different time if they can't manage parents' evening. I'm not evangelizing, just saying that this system works for us.
  11. Pros.

    We have 3 sets - Top or Challenge Set and 2 Parallel sets (Who would want to be on the bottom table of the bottom set! - and they will know - even if they don't realise themselves someone will point it out.)

    Also bottom sets can become a sink set and a nightmare to teach, as they are very depressing.

    Sets not balanced on numbers HA set has more pupils allows for more teacher time for LA pupils.

    This does allow more able pupils to be pushed on and challeneged - the pace of work in a top set goes faster. You can not and should not teach the same as the other set as these pupils will have greater understanding and so the teacher tries to find and fill gaps in their understanding.

    The pace of work in the 'bottom' set is slower but allows for greater consolidation.

    Differentation - Most teachers differentiate three ways setting allows for 6 to 9 levels of differentiation with no real extra work for the teacher. - A risk factor is (And I have seen examples of this as maths co-ordinator)is that as you teach a top set you don't always differentate full as they are all brighter.


    Balance of sets in year 5 you could have a top set of pupils with a range of 4b-5b. Bottom set W-4A... All you have done is creamed off the best.

    Solo planning - no longer do you have your turn on the maths plan - you go solo as you need to meet the ability of your class.

    As Sulla meantion schools have the tendancy to give the less able group to the less able Maths teacher, and vice versa. This is the worst thing that they can do. MA pupils will achieve by making their own links - this is normally what makes them more able. LAP's need this done for them in very simple basic steps. As Maths Co-ordinator I know which set I would rather teach for ease and pleasure - but I know which I should teach for most benifit for the pupils (Although this depends on your collegues - I was happy to teach MA set in one year due to level children where working at and them needing a constant challenge - on the hoof and the expertise of the other teachers).

    PARENTS - Pushy parents want little Johnny in top set / to stay in top set... But you know he would be better off being top of a lower set. This is the biggest nightmare of all.

    Movement between sets - Different areas of maths suit different pupils - shape and space is great for pupils with good visulsation skills - not always in the top set! It is nearly impossible to move them between sets as you teach at different paces.
    What year are you planning to set from. Set from year 3 and that will be 91% of your top set by Year 6. Even if pupils performance in Mid Year / End of Year assessments show that they should in that set. This is due to a number of factors.

    Top Set bottom table and Top table of middle bottom are virtually parrallel in my experience. I have seen this in data for many years so why should you swap one 4C for another 4C... (Try justifying that to a parent when they find out)

    It is great for year 6 as last minute math booster classes remove 6 pupils from the bottom sets to allow more teacher time for those target children.

    If you are asking me if I would set I would say YES, the pros do outweigh the cons. Would I have a top middle bottom (Weighting so that bottom has a significant number less pupils or even better targeted TA support) Yes, as long as I don't have to teach them. (Which is why I would go for Top, Middle Bottom x2)
    When would I stream... After a Mid year test - Old Optional Test Year 5. Allows one year to benifit NC test, but allows pupils maximum time to develop.
  12. Andrew Jeffrey

    Andrew Jeffrey New commenter

    In the past I have always advocated setting as it makes things easier for the teacher to pitch.

    I now believe that I was probably wrong. There is a growing body of evidence and qualitative research to show that in fact as Sulla says, *not* setting actually helps children develop as a class.

    Of course, this requires the teacher to take huge risks in the classroom, and as Lardylegs points out, having sets can make our planning easier.

    *Ducks back down behind the sofa.*
  13. Did you ever 'class teach' Andrew? I can understand that in primary but in prep where often subjects are taught by specialists, like in seconadary, the concept of class teachers goes out the window.
  14. Andrew Jeffrey

    Andrew Jeffrey New commenter

    Hi 145. Yes, I did class-teach for a couple of years, and the kids were put in two small sets for maths(on my say-so).

    Knowing what I know now, though, I'm not sure that that was the right decision, even though it seems obvious, appeals to parents, and is what the vast majortiy of independent schools do (and what ours was no different).

    I know this is very controversial - it's just that so much recent research flies in the face of this approach, and now I am reflecting on what I did and wondering...

  15. I take a bottom set Y5 and really enjoy it. I think that it is what you make of it. I try to give the pupils a sense of their worth. They are not rubbish but need a bit of a boost. It's nice to see improvement and to be able to show them how they have progressed. I'm not sure they would improve that much when up against the real high fliers that we get.
  16. Andrew Jeffrey

    Andrew Jeffrey New commenter

    Fair point. One of my happiest classes ever was a Y6 class of genuine SEN kids; none of them got Level 4, and I was upset as I was secretly hoping that at least one of them would and we could them all go to Macdonalds (I think we probably did anyway!)

    But I saw one of the kids from that group this Summer and it turns out that she had got a B at GCSE!

    I nearly cried! Actually, maybe I did. But not till I got back in my car.
  17. We have just returned to class maths. I agree with much of what the hawk said about setting. Timetabling was a big issue with us - in the Easter term alone, because of timetabling issues when trips took place and various other things, the children missed about 21 lessons of setted maths. Class maths is great for boosting the confidence of the average and below average cos sometimes they "get" something that the others don't quite. That gives them a huge boost. Also nice to have some bright ones who can move things along a bit. We have made sure that we have a TA in the class - not always to work with the LA. That is helping with AfL and Wave3. Teachers have to differentiate which they didn't always with sets. It is much easier to set targets for each block and the children who are struggling with one aspect but good on another concept are able to have their learning addressed ore personally. Lots of sceptics at first amongst the staff but now they are preferring it.
  18. I agree that alot of 'bottom set' maths pupils do not achieve because of low expectations. It takes the teacher to challenge and give them the opportunities to achieve.

    Got to go to bed. Too much red wine and 4 hours in gym since Monday. Want to eat and drink lots over Christmas so got to be good this week!
  19. Andrew Jeffrey

    Andrew Jeffrey New commenter

    I'll put you in the bottom set for 'staying up on a school night' then.

    Hope your self-esteem is not too badly dented. We can arrange some remedial drinking, but only after the SENCO has checked you out...
  20. Actually, I don't think there is a hard and fast ruke to this. A lot depends on the children and the staff that you have. We operated for 2 years with a top set and two parallel. The first year it was great, the second - it was not. This is all very serious for so close to Christmas. On a lighter note I set one of my kids the target of applying their Christmas skills to solving real life problems today - guess what is in my subconscious more than teir ability to CALCULATE!?

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