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Setting at KS4/GCSE

Discussion in 'Mathematics' started by Betamale, Apr 21, 2011.

  1. Do you think classes should be set purely on ability (and the needs of pupils catered for) or based on work ethic and compliance?
    Obviously you would not have pupils who naturally are weak in in the highest set (but then you could have the argument 'obviously you cant have the lazy able kids in the bottom...(well some may say))
    Do you think this approach would raise attainment? raise motivation?.
    My outlook a few years back would be no, but with the GCSE getting more and more 'in reach' of middle ability kids and the poor behaviour is it worth having a streaming system where there was a dumping ground at the bottom of the year who were simply ensuring progress elsewhere.
    I appreciate this would send ofsted nuts but what are your thoughts?

  2. I believe in setting by ability and then expecting the students to match behavioural expectations and perform appropriately
  3. It wouldn't work in my school, in which I'm moving the other way. Students are grouped according to their targets. If they're under-performing or misbehaving, then instead of moving them down, as previously happened, I'm targetting them for intervention.
  4. Well, according to Carol Dweck, the subject of a recent thread here, setting by ability is actually setting by work ethic and compliance if I take your meaning correctly. I think this is largely true, but as in everything, there are exceptions. All of the lower ability groups I took were mainly populated by disaffected boys who weren't misbehaving from frustration with the subject, but were trying to disrupt the learning of the few that were genuinly slow learners. In the school I taught in there seemed to be an obsession with setting with pupils continually moving between sets based on test results. However, there still seemed a very big difference between the best and worst based on classroom work. Personally I think pupils should be mainly setted by being matched to particular teachers rather than by ability.
  5. arsinh

    arsinh New commenter

    Good grief. Will we need to engage the services of eHarmony.com as consultants?
  6. As we all know, a lot of the literature recommends mixed ability teaching and I'd be persuaded to adopt this approach if we weren't judged as we are (ie less about grade Cs and more about students solving problems). When day dreaming in this way, I've had similar thoughts to FlippantFlyer - matching students to good relationships with staff.
  7. PaulDG

    PaulDG Occasional commenter

    Indeed it does.
    It's nonsense though.
    There's no way that you can actually teach a mixed ability class maths - sure, you can cope with a difference of, say, 1, maybe 2 levels, but when you have kids in year 7 capable of getting an A* in the GCSE in year 8 if taught the topics in the same class as kids who didn't scrape a level 3 at KS2 and hence almost certainly don't understand such things as place value and decimals, how can you possibly teach in a way that allows both outliers to progress*?
    And don't start with the nonsense that the level 8/9 kid could be paired with the level 3 as it will boost her understanding to explain place value to him - what it will actually mean is that she'll waste her time doing his work for him (while he gets frustrated) and she wont be being taught circle theorems, bounds, trig beyond 90 degrees and the other topics she could cope with right now.
    I can see how mixed ability classes might work in some humanities subjects - where higher ability attempting to explain complex ideas, uses of sources, etc. to lower ability might actually improve their understanding, but I just don't see it in maths or MFL. Or PE come to that - sure most PE classes are very mixed ability but I can be quite confident in saying that watching the class jock do everything they're asked to do pretty easily isn't a great learning experience for the fat kid who can just about jog one length of the football pitch.
    *Clearly, unless you p*ss her off completely, the level 8/9 year 7 will eventually pass her GCSE with an A* and that can be counted as a success as she came into the school with a level 5 as that's the highest the KS2 SATs can report. The fact that she's capable of doing far, far more right now and that's being ignored is not something that should be celebrated as a "success" of mixed ability teaching!
  8. there was a thread on this a couple of years ago - how low ability sets generally should be divided between the slow-but-trying and the cba, for the sake of the former group
  9. "And don't start with the nonsense that..." your tone came across a little strong there.

    I'm not going to start defending the principle of mixed ability teaching Paul as I'm merely in the same position as you - I've read the writing of people who recommend it and their reasons why and am persuaded by some of their reasoning (under the conditions I mentioned).
  10. Thanks for all the responses.
    I am all for setting by ability but I cant help thinking there should be a dumping ground in every year where the 'cba' are filtered and worksheeted to death.
    I have some kids in the top set who should be set 3/4 yet their work ethic is so good that they are holding their own as the GCSE is so 'accesible' these days that they are achieving.
    Same with the C/D kids. WE have some from the bottom set who now are in there giving it their max in a class where learning can take place and are getting close (but more than likely wont) to a C
    Having a dumping groun may sacrafice some for far more productive groups. It throws ECM out the window (which is another debate) but 9 productive classes and one awful one may be more conducive to succes rather than having the 'protagonists' littered around the sets
  11. pipipi

    pipipi New commenter

    I like the idea of 9 good groups and one dumping ground.
    You okay if I timetable you onto the dumping ground betamale?
  12. Isn't that what CS's are for[​IMG]
  13. Yes I will have half my timetable doing it please in return for half of stimulation...happily to do 10-11 lessons a week of containing them, worksheeted up to the max
    100%, had it before and will happily do it to allow thers to teach. In fact I will happily sign up to having a mass dumping ground timetabled in for a certain amount of periods so they are in from all years.
    Breaking cultures, killing dominant negative forces in a class for MANY schools is ideal IMO especialy those with lower results and attainment
  14. strawbs

    strawbs Established commenter

    good on yer! not many would volunteer for that!
  15. dajg

    dajg New commenter

    There is a lot you can do to improve the setting situation. Plenty of students go to schools where they are set in maths from sets 1 to 10 through the use of high stakes testing. This has been proved by research to be damaging both socially and academically.
    It is my opinion that the reason so many schools do this is because a lot of maths teachers want an easy life teaching out of a textbook. Now I accept that it is difficut to accomodate outliers at both ends of the academic spectrum but theses outliers are only going to comprise a tiny percentage of your cohort (hence them being outliers) but you can implement a far less damaging mixed ability system for the vast majority of students (the middle 90%+) relatively simply. Of course this probably means getting away from the "open your textbooks at page 27" lesson and developing a more engaging approach.
    Incidently the vast majority of maths teachers in the world teach mixed ability sets (Britain and America being the two main exceptions) the concept that certain people "can't do" maths just does not exist.

  16. An Ollerton fan perchance then? And I'm guessing you may also subscribe to the learning through problem solving approach and the like?

    Do you or have you worked in a mixed ability setting? How does it work in practice? What do you teach in terms of toics? Do you find that all pupils 'get' everything even if it is technically at a much higher level than some students are operating at? Or do you not worry if some students don't get some topics? Do you end up differentiating on topic as well as by outcome within a topic e.g. do you only teach half the class trigonometry while the rest are working on working out missing angles in triangles or something? How do you cope with different knowledge@ requiremenys between higher and foundation at gcse? Or do you find that after 3 years of mixed ability everyone apart from the bottom five percent can cope with higher? I know there are a lot of questions there but I am geniunely interested how your lessons work.
    P.S. Apologies if any typos - sending this via phone and the screen isn't the biggest in the world
  17. dajg

    dajg New commenter

    You can set a task that covers a wide variety of topics - IMO too many maths teachers want to get students to "understand a topic" (which usually means they can do the questions in the textbook) get away from teaching topics and your classroom becomes a very different place. Let me give you an example you will be familiar with - that famous piece of GCSE coursework "The Fencing Problem" (you have 1000m of fence to enclose a field - what shape should it be. Now if you give a task like this you can cover a wide variety of different material from perimeter and area with matchsticks right up to trigonometry and limits.
    Now I entirely accept that to get an entire department in a large secondary comprehensive school to teach fully mixed ability is quite a challenge. However at KS4 do you really need all of your higher tier pupils grouped by ability given they are all following the same POS? Why not make your 4 (or however many you have) higher tier sets mixed ability - this is an easy change and now instead of 1 top set you have 4 top sets. Also get rid of high stakes tests to move students between sets doing the same POS. Testing should be diagnostic and done within a week of meeting the material for the first time.

  18. dajg

    dajg New commenter

    The problem with most current mathematics textbooks is they are geared to teaching one little chunk of mathematics knowledge per exercise in isolation. There is little emphasis on making connections between topics or developing problem solving skills. The whole reason mathematics (especially at A level) is so valued is because of the logical and problem solving skills learnt. The best way to learn to do problems is not doing 100 graded questions on equations from a textbook (unless you have found a textbook that actually takes a problem solving approach to teaching - does this exist?)
    I think "open your textbooks at page 27" is the entire reason why so many children do not look forward to their maths lessons. Listen to the teacher waffle on at the board, copy the examples, do a load of questions which are pretty much all the same. Next lesson repeat but on a different and apparently unconnected topic. They end up with a whole collection of unconnected and (to them) contradictory topics going round in their brain
    Is the variable here is the nationality of the students -what is the causal factor in pupils saying "I don't get this and you're a rubbish teacher"? In the rest of the world where setting is not practiced the "culture" is different. In the UK and US, which set, you get large groups of students who are disengaged and blame their teacher. Do the math.
  19. pipipi

    pipipi New commenter

    Hi Betamale,
    I'd be happy to take one for the team, but as you said, only teach for half the timetable.
    Where it wouldn't work is where you have a timetable stuffed to full, and still get given GroupZ!

    and it would make it interesting if you were ever away.

    I certainly agree with separating them from other pupils though. I would rather set by attitude than by ability.

    I agree with Sara saying that it is all too easy for this to become a dumping gound for other teachers who don't want to try to engage.
    Last year I had a bottom set full of characters (and a full timetable). Round about October some whiney teacher with the group above put someone who wasn't behaving down into mine. I tried to put someone up (who had learnt the GropuZ lesson and wanted to work in the next group up) but kept being told it was full (?) or this person wasn' t going to be able to catch up.
  20. I don't think there is a huge cultural difference between the UK and other countries and it has nothing to do with setting.

    In the UK pupils spend far too much time on clap trap like 'Ambassadors and Envoys' and 'Snowballing' in other subjects that when it comes to actually sitting down and using their brains they don't like it. Amongst a fair proportion there is absolutely no work ethic what so ever.

    As to teaching purely by investigation, do we have examples of anywhere that this actually happens and the success rate or otherwise?

    I think the majority of textbooks are complete dross but as Paul says, at least they offer some benchmark standards and a path through the curriculum. I don't use them every lesson but I will dip into them for exercises.

    And I certainly don't think the tag of 'lazy maths teachers' is in any way appropriate. In fact, I consider it to be extremely rude.

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