Mixed-ability teaching(69 Posts)
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 >
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
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.
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
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.
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 I was often sitting there bored to tears, frustrated and impatiently waiting to get on with it because I'd "got it" ages ago
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.
"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 ). 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.
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!
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).
"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........!
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