Mixed-ability teaching

(69 Posts)
HelpOneAnother Mon 10-Dec-12 10:07:07

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Snowfire Mon 10-Dec-12 11:01:32

Most of the comps in my area do this, I think they want as many DC as possible to get a C in their GCSEs, so by putting them in mixed groups the more academic students can help those of lower ability. I don't think it's very helpful for more able DC though.

Snowfire Mon 10-Dec-12 11:03:00

That's not a positive, just my thoughts. Can't think of any positives tbh.

chloe74 Mon 10-Dec-12 11:25:38

I would say it more to do with the teacher. A good teacher is able to differentiate for mixed abilities and get the best out of all children. Bad teachers in 'set' classes are 'hidden' behind high achieving children who can do well no matter what.

So if its a good school with good teachers and behavior is not the factor then children benefit from the social inclusion mixed classes bring whilst still stretching the brightest to their limits.

The results tables should tell you how well high achieving children do at the school.

BrianButterfield Mon 10-Dec-12 11:51:50

My comprehensive teaches mixed ability in English all the way to year 11 - I can assure you we don't "teach to a c" but very much expect all students to go for their own target grade.

APMF Mon 10-Dec-12 12:37:32

Ok we are talking about secondary school but at primary school DS was on the top table in maths and literacy. He would often finish his task early and then sit there while waiting for the teacher or TA to work their way back to his table. Often he would get into trouble for being disruptive because he had nothing to do. In the end the teacher got him to help the others in maths. That made him feel important but it didn't exactly push his maths.

I be interested to hear how a teacher of a mixed ability secondary class thinks he/she can devote the same effort to teaching my son compared to a teacher in a streamed class.

noblegiraffe Mon 10-Dec-12 12:43:25

Evidence shows mixed ability groups has a positive effect on the achievement of lower and middle ability children and also avoids problems with disaffection and self esteem that can be caused by putting students in low sets. High ability children do slightly worse than in a set, I think.

HelpOneAnother Mon 10-Dec-12 12:54:03

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SanityClause Mon 10-Dec-12 13:02:03

Actually, APMF, I believe that it does help children to explain their knowledge to others.

I think it was Einstein who said something to the effect of "if you can't explain it simply, then you don't truly understand." So by encouraging your DC to explain concepts to others, the teacher is ensuring he really does understand it.

Even very highly qualified teachers find that their understanding of a concept is reinforced by teaching to students, even of a much lower level than themselves.

(I have to rush off, now, so sorry to appear rude by posting and running!)

APMF Mon 10-Dec-12 13:08:28

I never thought of it that way Sanity.

crazymum53 Mon 10-Dec-12 13:18:03

My dd is in Y8 and her secondary school does this. In Y7 they are only set for Maths (using CATs scores and SATs data). This has seemed to work well as for subjects such as English and Science all students study the same topics and set books etc. including Shakepeare. This also gives more time for the secondary school teachers to assess dcs ability as SATs data and primary school teacher's assessments may not be completely accurate.
In Y8 the school has a definite top set for subjects such as Maths, Science, MFL, History, Geography ((some subjects are not "set") and a "support" set for children who are below average. The other sets are mixed ability. The school does publish subject-by-subject GCSE results and most children in the "mixed ability" sets still obtain grade A*-B at GCSE so it definitely works at this school.

HelpOneAnother Mon 10-Dec-12 13:19:48

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TheOriginalSteamingNit Mon 10-Dec-12 13:19:57

Sanity That's true actually: I frequently find being made to explain things helps me to clarify my own understanding, but had never thought of it like that before.

OP my y11 dd is in sets for English, Maths and Science, but languages and humanities are mixed: there does not seem to be an appreciable difference, and indeed her weakest teacher is for Biology, and this is the only one where a particular child has got away with poor behaviour - and since he's top set too, the problem would have been there either way, if you see what I mean.

I was a bit hmm after options when not everything was set any more, but it seems to have worked out fine (touch wood) - I think it depends on the teacher more than anything else.

ReallyTired Mon 10-Dec-12 13:23:54

Finland uses mixed ablity teaching and has fanastic results.

HelpOneAnother Mon 10-Dec-12 13:27:14

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HelpOneAnother Mon 10-Dec-12 13:38:54

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TheOriginalSteamingNit Mon 10-Dec-12 13:42:34

Interestingly, French is the most mixed ability of the lot, because, for historic reasons too complex to explain briefly, it is a group of people who did it because it was perceived to be easier than German and the teacher softer, and then a few people who did it as well as German, who are generally more keen on MFL. At the moment it seems to have worked ok, but I'm so aware of touching wood as we near mocks!

HelpOneAnother Mon 10-Dec-12 13:49:05

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TheOriginalSteamingNit Mon 10-Dec-12 13:51:29

Merci de sa part thanks

glaurung Mon 10-Dec-12 14:31:32

dd was in fairly mixed ability groups in year 10 and 11 and did brilliantly (quite a bit better than expected) in her GCSEs. I think what worked especially well for her was the having to explain things to others and going over things several times in class which meant she could get away with being unreliable over homework (she's a lazy moo) but still reinforce the work. Small class sizes probably helped too.

noblegiraffe Mon 10-Dec-12 15:42:47

In 1999 1.1% of students in the UK were in special segregated provision for SEN students, in Finland it was 3.7%, so comparing mixed ability here with mixed ability there might give different impressions. (I don't know any more up to date figures although I suspect that the UK figure will be even lower now than in 1999.)

LoopsInHoops Mon 10-Dec-12 15:48:24

As a teacher, I far prefer mixed ability, unless there are proper SEN groups.

Middle or lower sets get so focused on behaviour management that they become impossible to teach. Average students lose out.

So often I've seen average students in mixed ability settings pitch themselves against the high achievers, and thrive on the competition. IMO a motivated average student will do better in a mixed group than a lower set, but can sometimes feel discouraged by being one of the weakest in a top set.

chloe74 Mon 10-Dec-12 16:12:43

Loops - you seem to be asserting that high achieving pupils are used by teachers to help the disruptive pupils behave and to drag up the middle achievers. What about that situation benefits high achievers?

APMF Mon 10-Dec-12 19:59:53

Well, as a parent I don't prefer mixed ability classes.

If a teacher needs someone like my son to motivate the average ability kid then something is seriously wrong.

Niceweather Mon 10-Dec-12 21:18:11

Copied from web:
To summarize the numbers (which sometimes get cited differently) learners retain approximately:
90% of what they learn when they teach someone else/use immediately.
75% of what they learn when they practice what they learned.
50% of what they learn when engaged in a group discussion.
30% of what they learn when they see a demonstration.
20% of what they learn from audio-visual.
10% of what they learn when they’ve learned from reading.
5% of what they learn when they’ve learned from lecture.

cricketballs Mon 10-Dec-12 23:02:40

I previously applauded the use of mixed ability groups for all the reasons stated above but I have changed my thinking on this issue...

I teach what is normally a mixed ability subject. I really thought that I was differentiating to all abilities until the timetable meant that my groups were set (maths settings due to the timetable issues). This was the first time I truly saw how low the lowest ability actually were (it also helped that as they were the lowest ability group it was much smaller) as they had no where to hide and had no one hiding their true ability as they weren't receiving the help from another student.

I am again teaching mixed ability groups (in a different school) and this year I have a year 7 group whose target grades range from a level 2 up to level 7 in the same class. I honestly don't feel that I am serving all the students in this class to the best learning I should be offering them as I am so focused on ensuring my level 2 can access the work and that the level 7s are being pushed (which takes a lot of planning) that my middle students are in the main being ignored - how fair is this on all my students? I'm not sure how long I can keep up the workload required for this 1 group with such a wide range of ability.

I have voiced my concerns to SLT about this especially as we are due Ofsted at any time and I know that if they came into this lesson it would fail dramatically

LoopsInHoops Tue 11-Dec-12 03:15:16

Loops - you seem to be asserting that high achieving pupils are used by teachers to help the disruptive pupils behave and to drag up the middle achievers. What about that situation benefits high achievers?

Not at all, but that a culture of learning is more likely to take place in a mixed group than a low set. I agree, the high achievers are not the ones who benefit from this.

Interstingly, I work in a school where some subjects are not set but grouped by gender, which appears to work really well.

noblegiraffe Tue 11-Dec-12 08:34:54

Thing is, if setting benefits high achievers but mixed ability benefits middle and low ability (as the evidence appears to show) then if you are going by the greatest good, you have to go for mixed ability. Obviously parents of high achievers won't be happy with that!

APMF Tue 11-Dec-12 08:52:24

In the words of Spock :-) the needs of the many are sometimes outweighed by the needs of the few. Well, the needs of my 'few' outweigh the needs of the 'many'

wordfactory Tue 11-Dec-12 08:54:49

I'm not keen on mixed ability teaching after about year 3, so I would avoid any school that didn't set flexibly at secondary.

If selective schools set within their already narrowed-down ability range, why on earth would comprehensives think this a good idea?

wordfactory Tue 11-Dec-12 08:58:18

noble mixed ability only benefits the middle achievers if you don't stretch too far. If you take the class as far as the highest achievers, the middle group will not benefit. And god help the lower ability pupils.

By keeping the class work at a level that will benefit the middle achievers, you are holding back the high achievers. How can that be beneficial to our society as a whole?

RichManPoorManBeggarmanThief Tue 11-Dec-12 09:09:00

This thread does little to combat the widely held belief that British state education encourages a culture of mediocrity.

wordfactory Tue 11-Dec-12 09:40:05

TBF richman I think many comprehensives do set properly...but it's a matter of luck if you live near one. Somehting you have no control of.

HelpOneAnother Tue 11-Dec-12 09:43:41

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seeker Tue 11-Dec-12 09:54:48

In my ds's school they are set quite rigorously for science, maths, English, languages and sport (not sure what that last one's about) In humanities, the plenary lesson is whole class (mixed ability)- then they are put into groups with differentiated work to do. I was very sceptical, but it does seem to work if the teacher is very capable and on the ball. I know there is an eye watering range of ability in the class.

In my experience, grammar schools only set for maths. I suppose because it would be impossible to run a useful plenary session in maths where there was a massive range of ability, which there tends to be in maths.

HelpOneAnother Tue 11-Dec-12 10:02:56

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phlebas Tue 11-Dec-12 10:06:56

my dd's school only set for maths.

They have a progress group for English which is for children working below level 4. The rest is mixed ability - from "working towards" level 3 right up to 6a/7. They have all lost an hour a week of MFL - including dd & others who are working at & above 6a for English - because such a large number of children have come up from primary school "not knowing what a verb is" so there is now an hour of basic literacy. There is NO differentiation in that class & is a complete waste of time for the more able children. I can't think of any positives for my dd.

seeker Tue 11-Dec-12 10:30:55

If there is no differentiation in the classroom, then you should be in the HT's doorstep as soon as you can get there qnd refuse to move until s/he does something about it.

HelpOneAnother Tue 11-Dec-12 10:31:01

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noblegiraffe Tue 11-Dec-12 10:38:34

The reason schools set for maths in particular is because in maths it is very difficult to differentiate by outcome. In English, you could set the whole class the same essay and have different success criteria for different groups of students, e.g. the higher ability might concentrate on use of persuasive language, the lower on adjectives (no idea really as I'm a maths teacher, but you get the idea). In history the top might have a target of identifying and discussing 3 causes of WWII, the bottom, one. In maths it's very difficult to set all students the same task as some will be working on trigonometry, some on adding decimals. Hence setting, so that you can give the different groups different inputs.

HelpOneAnother Tue 11-Dec-12 10:50:30

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HelpOneAnother Tue 11-Dec-12 10:59:44

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seeker Tue 11-Dec-12 11:03:00

"The problems are if the student is at either end of the ability range."

My limited experience seems to suggest that it's worse for the lower ability end. As long as there are enough higher ability kids to form a viable group, they need guidance but also feed off each other. The lower ability kids need far more support, and often seem to feed off each other in a negative rather than a positive way.

chloe74 Tue 11-Dec-12 11:12:01

Seems to be a typical English attitude that clever kids should be dragged down, so they all are equal in mediocrity (or worse). Where has the belief gone that all should reach for the stars.

Unless we maximize our strengths instead of equalizing our weaknesses then this country is doomed to be an average little state of no importance in the world. After a decade of such pathetic leadership England seems to have almost lost the will to live.

HelpOneAnother Tue 11-Dec-12 11:13:22

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HelpOneAnother Tue 11-Dec-12 11:15:29

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seeker Tue 11-Dec-12 11:16:52

"Seems to be a typical English attitude that clever kids should be dragged down, so they all are equal in mediocrity (or worse). Where has the belief gone that all should reach for the stars. "

I find it baffling that people keep on saying things like this despite the fact that there are other people all around saying that that is not what is happening in their children's classroom........!

TheWave Tue 11-Dec-12 11:28:06

Only setting for Maths in my children's comp, seems to differentiate all right at every level including the top end, where they are all aiming for personal goals A* etc.

I dislike the thought that others think their "clever" children are being used to moderate behaviour, that could be a side-effect but is not being used or abused imho. The benefits are that all classes are moving along at a reasonable pace and all children (higher or lower ability) have quietish classes to work in at their own levels.

Quietish classes mean that the teachers can teach all children, which is fair. Makes the potentially disruptive children spread through the classes and therefore the teachers can manage that, rather than all in one set at the bottom (potentially, don't want to generalise).

In Yr 10 they choose different subject of course, so there tends to be more "clever" children in the more difficult subject classes (triple science for example).

HelpOneAnother Tue 11-Dec-12 11:40:21

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LettyAshton Tue 11-Dec-12 11:42:18

Ds is at a comprehensive. He has been set for English for the first time in Year 10. He is enjoying English much more as he says the discussions are more lively and everyone engages. He says there has never been any disruption in any of his classes, but it's just that pupils' abilities vary.

Apparently in his class all pupils read a set book in advance and then come to the lesson to discuss/study, whereas in other classes they all read the book through with the teacher.

Ds says that he fervently wishes they were set for Games and PE as it is a nightmare when all the sporty ones are forever groaning at the efforts of their less able peers. If only this had happened 30 years ago too!

HelpOneAnother Tue 11-Dec-12 11:50:52

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phlebas Tue 11-Dec-12 12:22:09

"If there is no differentiation in the classroom, then you should be in the HT's doorstep as soon as you can get there qnd refuse to move until s/he does something about it."

we're working through a list of problems & are in discussion with the HOY etc most weeks - despite being 'those parents' they seems to like dd & she mostly enjoys it which is why she's still there. We have very few alternative options but I honestly don't know if she will still be there next year (ironically we turned down a place at another school because the streamed which I also don't like).

btw this is an outstanding comprehensive in an area with no grammar schools middle class intake no ESL, tiny % of FSM & SEN blah blah & the high achieving children get on average a whole grade lower than matched children in the adjacent county with grammar schools. I strongly suspect that much of the achievement at the top end comes from motivated (& tutoring) parents.

Problems so far - books not being marked even once every half term, failure even to collect in 'assessed' work, total reliance on peer marking, discouraging contributions for more motivated students (because they know too much), refusal to assess ability/give predicted grades because dd had not done SATs (I'm not really bothered by that but it means that her end of year targets are lower in many cases than her current levels hmm ). They put her in the bottom maths set rather than assess her - she was moved up to top set within a few weeks but missed work during that time.

It isn't a behaviour issue for me - her most disrupted classes are maths (top set, two extremely bright pupils with behavioural issues but still her favourite class because it is challenging, fast paced & competitive) & history which the lowest achieving do not do (they have reading support instead). dd is fed up with feeling that her contributions aren't welcomed and that she is wasting masses of time not dong much. I have another child with very significant SENs & autism. I wouldn't want him in that environment either.

piggywigwig Tue 11-Dec-12 13:11:37

In my GS, we had mixed ability for some classes; English Lit. and English Lang. being two of them, where we were taught in our form group. I hated it. English was my 2nd favourite subject but the lessons were hard work for many of us - especially the high-fliers and the lower achievers. We had disruptive elements and the teacher, although very experienced, struggled at times, to engage everyone. I was in the top 3 in the class and didn't like the s-l-o-w pace we often had to take. When we got to the two years of GCE, it was particularly bad with Shakespeare and the core poems we had to do sad I was often sitting there bored to tears, frustrated and impatiently waiting to get on with it because I'd "got it" ages ago angry
DD1's experience of non-set groups at GCSE, at her secondary/high school, was pretty much the same as mine. So from a pupil-perspective, I don't like mixed ability teaching.

HelpOneAnother Tue 11-Dec-12 13:46:36

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HelpOneAnother Tue 11-Dec-12 13:57:48

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Phineyj Tue 11-Dec-12 17:50:50

As a teacher I greatly dislike teaching humanities with a mixed ability class. The higher ability students don't get stretched while the low ability students never get to finish anything as they find reading and writing so difficult. Yes you can set differentiated objectives and prepare cunning worksheets but it is a huge amount of work to solve a problem that doesn't need to exist if we could stop pretending you can serve each of 25 kids equally well, in a subject taught for one hour per week, when ability ranges between a U and an A*. Imagine running a sports team or an orchestra on that basis... The other problem with differentiation is why would a bright kid choose to do more work than they had to if the reward is more work and possible social ostracism? Some will have the personality where they enjoy helping or explaining to others, but it shouldn't be compulsory. If they are really gifted at humanities, the kind thing to do might be to send them to the library with a book? And it would be fairer to test the lower ability students on their understanding verbally, as many are much more articulate when not forced to write, but that's probably far too radical.

cricketballs Tue 11-Dec-12 18:46:09

Phineyj thank you for your comment as I was feeling like I was in solitude for actually saying that mixed ability whilst good in theory is not always the most practical to undertake and doesn't really allow every student to progress

GreatUncleEddie Tue 11-Dec-12 18:55:11

Yes in this country we always seem happy to accept that some children are rubbish at sport or unmusical, but not that some aren't clever. Most odd.

TheOriginalSteamingNit Tue 11-Dec-12 19:01:15

I think, overall, sets are probably the preferred option, at least for bright dc who like an environment where everyone is clever.

However, sometimes they can't or don't happen, and I would also like to reassure and suggest to anyone concerned that it needn't be the end of the world, or even affect anyone's results, if the teaching and the attitude of students is right,

seeker Tue 11-Dec-12 19:02:17

I am perfectly prepared to accept that some children aren't clever. I just don't want them publicly labelled or given a crap education because of it.

LynetteScavo Tue 11-Dec-12 19:14:13

I chose a school which doesn't set in Y 7 (and only set in Y8, or it could be Y9 [consused] for maths and English, and science).

I chose it because DS is very anxious, and it has worked very well for him. His tutor group went as a whole to different lessons so he wasn't meeting new people each lesson. He is higher ability , and I have no complaints as to how he has been educated.

I look forward to my middle ability child and my dyslexic child experiencing the same system. I think it will do their self esteem a world of good.

The school gets very good exam results at GCSE and Alevel, so it must be doing something right.

littleducks Tue 11-Dec-12 19:15:07

I'm really not keen on mixed ability lessons atm. I have sat in on two lessons recently (and will be doing more over the next few weeks). How a teacher can be expected to teach children who are being told to use connectives in their writing (and/because) at the same time as very time as students of a high ability (this is secondary) I dont understand. The children swapped and peer assessed the person next to them which was clearly a pointless exercise for some of the pairings.

I was at grammar school, we were set for maths and science, which worked well.

pointysettia Tue 11-Dec-12 20:43:37

DD! is in YR 7 and is not set by subject - however, there are 8 classes in her year group and these are assembled by ability. There are 4 ability groups, two classes in each. The top classes will have an ability range of high L4 to low/mid L6 in core subjects. It seems to work very well, DD is definitely challenged. No ability setting for PE, art etc. and not for science either, though DD seems by pure chance to have ended up in a group with a lot of budding scientists.

LynetteScavo Tue 11-Dec-12 20:57:29

Not being a teacher, I don't know how teachers teach various abilities in one class, but it obviously can be done, as the results from my DCs school are much better than the school which streams for every subject from Y7.

littleducks Tue 11-Dec-12 22:48:16

To me its not just results though. The kids were bored, either being talked over or unstretched. I remember being so bored in primary school (not much differentiated teaching then) which is why my parents sent me out of borough to grammar. I want my kids to get enthusiastic about the subjects they like and really enjoy them, which is far easier with peers who also like and enjoy that subject.

seeker Tue 11-Dec-12 22:59:20

I think you have to have a much better teacher to manage mixed ability classes. As I said, my ds is not streamed for humanities, and it depends very much which of the three teachers is working that day how well the lesson goes.

Dededum Tue 11-Dec-12 23:13:04

My son is in yr 7, they have 2 top groups, 3 middle groups and 1 bottom set in Maths and French. Everything else is mixed ability. We are happy with the system.

BackforGood Tue 11-Dec-12 23:14:07

Great post Phineyj

<Sobs at being reminded that my dd must be at the only school in the country who don't set for maths > sad

HelpOneAnother Wed 12-Dec-12 12:18:23

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