Views on ability groups

(187 Posts)
averywoomummy Thu 21-Nov-13 12:37:11

Having just read the thread about summer borns and having done a bit of reasearch on the internet about ability groups I was just wondering what people's views were on them.

Personally I am quite worried about how they are used at DCs school and wonder if I am right to be so. The thing is I could understand if they sat at mixed tables and then went into separate groups for maths etc but in DCs class they sit in their ability group for the majority of the time - even doing crafts within their group. This seems to very much fix them in their ability band and they don't get the chance to work with children of different abilities and share knowledge.

This also means the groups are very obvious and as they use the same names year in year out parents instantly know what group their child and others are in.

It also concerns me that it is a small classroom with a fixed number on each table and so for a child to move up - another has to move down (and vice versa) this doesn't seem right as surely children's development is very fluid and just because one is ready to move up doesn't mean that at the same time another child is ready to move down. It also seems quite divisive as children could perceive their place has been "taken".

As DC is in a lower group I also worry about her learning being capped and I think that even if she is capable of a bit more she may not be encouraged to do it. I worry that the lower group will start to see themselves as not so capable and that it will become a self fulfilling prophesy.

I can understand differentiation of work but does it have to be so obvious?!

Really interested to hear others opinions of how this has worked for their DCs - also how does a class with no grouping work?

anitasmall Thu 28-Nov-13 09:45:33

In addition at exams some tasks can be only proving theories, like drawing squares around a triangle and explain the theory behind Pythagoras' theorem. Another example is to choose from possible answers the valid one (like x=8 and x=-8 but the labor can't be negative, so the only valid answer is x=8).

lougle Thu 28-Nov-13 07:01:34

I used to be like that, Simpson, but it really is essential to get in to the habit, because when you are doing A-level maths, for example, the workings are the most important part of the exams. You can get every single answer wrong and still get quite a good grade if your method was sound and workings shown.

simpson Wed 27-Nov-13 23:53:01

DS's problem is that he finds it hard to write down how he understands a (numeracy) concept...he just does.

I know he does understand it as he can explain it well to me (tip his yr3 teacher told me to get him to do) he just finds it a waste of time to show his workings out on an assessment when he already knows the answer.

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Wed 27-Nov-13 21:58:20

teacher I think with DD2 she does actually understand perfectly, on all the necessary levels, the why and not just the how ...and it's not the 'black box' example you use.

But, that doesn't necessarily follow that she can explain it very well, and thoroughly in a way another child will easily understand.

To be honest, I have known professional teachers who actually aren't that great at explaining things.

Huitre Wed 27-Nov-13 20:47:48

Strangely, I score well on the spatial component of IQ tests.

Huitre Wed 27-Nov-13 20:47:28

I am totally with you on the direction thing. I am awful. I am so bad that if I am walking down an unfamiliar street and stop to go into a shop, I can come out again ten minutes later and be completely unable to work out which way I was walking down the street and how to carry on.

lougle Wed 27-Nov-13 19:57:26

It's a bit like me with direction: I am useless at direction. Genuinely. I think that if the medical world knew exactly what part of the brain was responsible for each function in our lives, then MRI'd me, that 'bit' would be missing.

I can do left and right. I can do North, South, East and West as long as the map is lined up neatly with North at the top. Beyond that, no.

I have to learn routes by rote. Even if several routes share the same stretch of road, I have to learn the routes individually.

I used to travel from beyond Fareham to Chichester. I learned the route. Then I needed to go to Brighton. I had to actually say to myself "Go to Chichester but don't turn off - carry on going."

That's because no matter how much I learn routes, I don't have that basic knowledge of direction. I have to pause every time I approach a motorway to assess whether I need 'East or West'. To work out where abouts I am in relation to where I want to go.

It's the same with mathematics. You can know the methods. You can know that they work every time. But to really understand you have to know why it works, and what other ways you can work out the same problem, and why they give the same answer, etc.

teacherwith2kids Wed 27-Nov-13 19:34:15

LaQ,

It's probably easily illustrated by a child in my class - she can perform the 'mechanical' process of short division flawlessly, again and again.

She has absolutely no understanding of how and why it works , so or her it is a 'black box'. That means that when she moves on to long division, she will have to learn a 'new process'. She can give 'step by step instructions', but cannot explain anything any deeper about the true maths that is going on.

On the other hand, I have a pupil who makes occasional mistakes BUT has a really secure understanding of what is really happening, of the place value of each digit, of how the process is a much longer one condensed. as a result, she has a knack for explaining exactly what to do in a way that conveys understanding, not a mechanical process, to others.

mrz Wed 27-Nov-13 19:04:15

no she is demonstrating she has mastered the mechanics which is great but not the whole picture

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Wed 27-Nov-13 13:46:54

Just wanted to add I am all for flexibility between ability groups, and movement when it's deserved.

There are quite a few reasons why not much movement might happen, I know.

But, I do think that one of the major reasons is that teachers are actually rather good at knowing their children, and recognising what their abilities are, and that these abilities very often only progress at the predicted rate.

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Wed 27-Nov-13 13:42:16

"the effort of clearly explaining it to others focuses effort on logical thoughts and how to effectively communicating and one of the best ways to show that you truely understand something."

But, surely if she can do the maths very easily, and demonstrates that over and over, she is showing that she truly understands it?

Just because, when she's verbally explaining the method to another child it may come out disjointed and skipping bits, it doesn't mean to say that it doesn't make perfect, beautifully streamlined sense inside her head?

I suspect it must do, else she wouldn't excel at it? However, she thinks about maths, or fathoms it, or works it out, clearly works brilliantly for her.

And, even if there are deeper, more hidden levels to the theoretical concept they're studying...I doubt it's necessary for her to understand them as yet (she's only 9)...and I would think it even less necessary for her to understand them and attempt explaining them to her companion, when they're struggling with just the initial basic concept.

columngollum Wed 27-Nov-13 11:45:54

What does a scolding for teaching children to divide sound like? (I've got a funny feeling that I'd be reminding said staff about business, minding and their own.)

PastSellByDate Wed 27-Nov-13 11:05:50

teacherwith2kids

Can I just ask what year your teaching short division to?

I ask because our school say that 'short division' - or bus stop method is really just introduced in Year 6 and will be taught thoroughly in Y7, at senior school.

I have been scolded by teachers and a deputy Head at our school for teaching my children this method confused.

anitasmall Tue 26-Nov-13 19:25:56

My daughter is in year 2. In year 1 they had 6-6 groups at Maths and English. Some children were in top gropups let's say at Maths but in middle groups at English. It sent a positive message to the children: everybody is good at something. In year 2 the same children are sitting at the top-mid-LA tables.

teacherwith2kids Tue 26-Nov-13 17:55:31

Interestingly, in primary maths, I had an example of this today.

We have just been learning the traditional 'short' method of written division, which most of the class can perform accurately.

So I asked 'can you create a series of instructions for 'the division machine' to enable it to carry out short division, and test your instructions on a partner' - which made them really stop and think about each step [the most common error they have been making is small slips in one of the steps, and this really focused them on it].

My extension task, for the more able in division (not necessarily the 'more able' in general, but those who had demonstrated that they had an accurate method for division) was 'explain how short division works to someone who is good at maths but doesn't know this method yet. Your listener and isn't sure why it produces the right answers. Use any other method of division that you already know to support you'. It was a genuinely hard preocess - yes, only primary maths, but unpicking each step and explaining what is happening in terms of grouping or sharing or number lines or partitioning or informal chunking was a) worthwhile and b) really challenged the more able to think of maths as a process, not as a 'black box machine'....

cloutiedumpling Tue 26-Nov-13 16:24:33

I am not completely against children being put into sets. My main objection is that kids are put into sets when they are still very, very young and that there is often little flexibility between sets, putting the younger kids in a school year at a disadvantage because they are more likely to be more immature / less developed.

intitgrand Tue 26-Nov-13 16:06:23

LaQueen MrZ is right and the skill of being able to identify and record (or in this case relate) your methods are essential as you progress in maths.

mrz Tue 26-Nov-13 15:36:47

you said it yourself ... she knows it in her own head but "On many occasions I have overheard DD2 explaining something she has done...she skips bits and misses them out (because she assumes others will automatically already know how to do them) ...it's rarely a nice, logical, clearly understood progression of thought." the effort of clearly explaining it to others focuses effort on logical thoughts and how to effectively communicating and one of the best ways to show that you truely understand something.

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Tue 26-Nov-13 15:25:33

There is a difference between being able to reliably follow a sequence of steps and actually understanding why you do what you do.

Of course there is lougle.

But, plenty of children can easily manage both ...especially in something like maths.

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Tue 26-Nov-13 15:23:36

But if the child has already easily grasped the concept, and has demonstarted they have grasped it (a lot) ... then how can their understanding increase ? They already know it. How much more is there to know and understand for goodness sake?

We are talking primary maths here...are there really that many hidden levels, and depths to it?

They can already quickly recall the information, and apply it very effectively. In maths, they're getting it right, spot on, every time already...

So how does explaining it help them more?

Huitre Tue 26-Nov-13 15:20:50

I understand lots of things a lot better than my daughter, many of which I have never before had to explain to someone else. I have often noticed rules or similarities or ways that I do things that make it easier when I am explaining something to my daughter. They are rules that I apply subconsciously but explaining makes them explicit in my mind because I have to stop and unpick them in order to show her what I'm doing. I think it actually does make me understand what I'm doing more fully.

lougle Tue 26-Nov-13 15:19:35

We all know that 1 add 1 equals 2, but I believe the actual mathematical justification of it spans several pages. There is a difference between being able to reliably follow a sequence of steps and actually understanding why you do what you do.

mrz Tue 26-Nov-13 15:17:05

because expaining it to another person is known to greatly increase your understanding. When this happens, you’ll recall the information more accurately and apply it more effectively.

LaQueenOfTheTimeLords Tue 26-Nov-13 15:06:01

But why does she have to explain it to another child mrsz ?

If she can easily do the task, and understands it completely within her own head, then why does she have to stop, pause and try and explain it to someone else?

If she already knows it, has it clear in her own head, and has demonstrated she can do it to the nth degree...then how does it benefit her, to have to re-calibrate in order to explain it to another child who doesn't understand it?

mrz Tue 26-Nov-13 14:54:43

The point is that to explain it in a way that the other child can understand it's called "The Protégé Effect"

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