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Not "setting" in GCSE class

(76 Posts)
Rufus43 Fri 06-Sep-13 14:35:20

My son has just gone into year 10. He is in ability set classes for a few subjects but not for history (hasn't had all his lessons yet so maybe more)

To me there is a huge difference between a potential A* child and one that may work really hard for an E, it feels like the ones in the middle may get lost a little.

I appreciate that it may be down to logistics but is this usual? State school if that makes any difference

cricketballs Sat 07-Sep-13 10:50:49

in answer to your question on how we manage the differentiation I can only answer from my subject's perspective (all topics have to be covered no matter the grade level which is different from maths for example).

I have my SoW which states what topic needs to be taught in each lesson. From this I prepare my lesson for the majority of the class. From this I then differentiate it to stretch the brighter pupils and to support the lower ability pupils; therefore I usually have 3-4 different sets of resources for each lesson.
In the main, the brighter pupils are asked to evaluate more deeply, apply the knowledge to more difficult circumstances, encouraged to consider more variables than the initial problem. The lower ability students are given writing frames, key words that they can use to aid their understanding of the topic in question.

Rufus43 Sat 07-Sep-13 17:10:28

Thanks cricketballs

BackforGood Sat 07-Sep-13 18:06:50

Rufus - sadly they do at my dd's school.
Head of maths is convinced that mixed ability teaching is the best way sad.

pixelchick10 Sat 07-Sep-13 19:09:11

At my dd's school they don't set for History and Geography ... nor for science which surprised me (I think they have one top set, and the rest are mixed sets). Last year DD was in one of two top science sets, but now they've made it smaller and reduced it to one so there are less spaces and I am fairly sure she was in the middle of the top set ... so she's moved down. I'd obviously prefer her to be in the top set but she says she prefers it this year, as it doesn't go at such a lightning pace (and I'm sure she's right) ...

Rufus43 Sat 07-Sep-13 19:16:23

backforgood don't know how some people can still think like that! It probably works in some subjects but I can't see how in subjects like maths

Talkinpeace Sat 07-Sep-13 20:17:24

One of DDs MFL classes is very mixed ability (she is year 11) but the teachers know it and have a folder of extension work for the brightest kids to chew on every lesson ....

JenaiMorris Sat 07-Sep-13 21:05:25

Just had a look at ds's school website and all the options are mixed at KS4. Core (maths, English and science) are set.

Almost everything is set in Y8 and 9, nothing at all set in Y7.

sunshine75 Sun 08-Sep-13 07:47:25

I'm a history teacher and have always managed to get good results from mixed ability classes. Usually, only bright..ish students choose history so I teach to the top end,regardless, and pull the B and C grade students up with them. In addition, no tiered papers for GCSE so they will have to do a fairly hard exam at the end, so no point dumbing it down. Unless, the school has encouraged less able students to take history then I sure it will be fine

Rufus43 Sun 08-Sep-13 10:21:41

Thanks sunshine

TheFourMarys Sun 08-Sep-13 13:35:09

While I can understand the concept of differentiation in terms of the work that is set for the different ability bands, I am at a loss to see how during lesson times the teacher can TEACH to differing ability levels.

It seems to me that in mixed ability classes those in the highest ability range will never get the kind of teaching which inspires, instructs, coaches them - they will only ever get handed sheets of things to do on their own.

I hope I'm wrong about this, and I would love to hear from teachers, particularly of humanities subjects, whether, and how often, they manage to spend time in class actually teaching the brightest students (say top 5%) to a higher level than they are at already.

elliepac Sun 08-Sep-13 14:02:51

I am speaking here as a Head of History in a large comprehensive school.

The problem with History setting is that in the vast majority of schools is that Options are 'blocked'. This basically means that all pupils in each 'block' (we have 3) who have chosen History will be in the same group, unless there are enough to have 2 groups. We currently have 5 groups in yr 10 and 11. 4 we have managed to set but 1 is mixed ability. Every year there is at least one if not 2 mixed ability groups.

It can be disconcerting and worrying for pupils and parents who are used to being in top sets for everything to find themselves in a class with less academic pupils and this worry is natural. I have answered many parental queries on this subject in my time.

As has already been said, we are used to teaching mixed ability and have been trained to do so. It is not ideal, I grant you that, but it is perfectly possible and can be done very well. Sometimes it can actually improve performance, particularly from those who may be C/D borderline. They 'work up' if you see what I mean.

To give you an idea of how it is done, I currently teach a class with targets of everything from A*- F. They are all taught the same subject content but to differing depths. I have them sat in groups according to ability some of the time so brightest together, weakest together with TA, middle togethet, although quite often I will mix the middle up with the bright.

Each lesson they will have slightly different tasks/success criteria according to their VA. They choose which task they do. For example if we are evaluating sources, the weakest will be asked to describe what they see, the middle to explain and the brightest to evaluate for utility and interpretation. Same task different expectations.

The key to success is good, clear differentiation as explained above. I also use questions which are labelled according to grade and pupils can choose which questions to answer.

A good History department is used to this type of situation and will teach accordingly.

I must also say, as the topic has been mentioned, that I would never discourage a child from choosing History because they are not 'academic'. That is wrong in my opinion. If a pupil has a keen interest in the subject they should be encouraged to choose it and supported all the way. I am a firm believer that history is, and should be, for all.

I attend local Heads of History meetings. And some schools boast of stunning 90% results but they don't say that they only allow pupils to take the subject if predicted and A or a B. it makes me very angry to see that attitude.

Speak to the History Department and you will be reassured.

Talkinpeace Sun 08-Sep-13 15:45:49

Hear hear to Elliepac : she knows more than thefourmarys

consolidated knowledge often involves being able to explain what you know - something that good teachers of mixed ability classes use as a bonus.
The 'daft' questions from the 'thick' kids can often push the A* brigade into levels of analysis that are otherwise unreachable

DD certainly benefited from trying to explain WHY she found a part of grammar logical and the other kid did not - she can now apply that principle in ANY language, not just the one that lesson covered.

THAT is how you stretch the top 5%

TheFourMarys Sun 08-Sep-13 17:20:55

Thank you for the insight, Elliepac, you do indeed know more than me! I am grateful for the reassurance.

Talkinpeace, I take your point, and I do agree that even the very brightest will be learning from the contributions of every child in the class, from every ability group.

My question was really, will a child in the top 5%, ever be taught, in order to reach the next level or will it always be dependent on them having the self motivation and energy to strive for it themselves?

Perhaps I am not explaining myself very well, but I mean from Elliepac's example above, does she spend time with this group showing them how to evaluate for utility and interpretation, showing them what is meant by it and what they should be aiming for, and then critiquing where their work is lacking? Or are they set the work and the results are accepted whatever they are because these children are already achieving good grades? That was really what was on my mind when I posted.

Talkinpeace Sun 08-Sep-13 17:30:54

If the experience of my DCs at their comp is anything to go by, the teachers LOVE bouncing off the bright kids - it makes their job more fun.
Bucket loads of devils advocate, current affairs, revisionism etc and the rest of the class get on with the bit they spotted

its a bit like watching the Simpsons with kids
they get the slapstick
you get the political nuance

wordfactory Sun 08-Sep-13 17:35:42

I am not a fan of mixed abilty classes.

However, I can see that history would be one subject where it could be adequately resolved, actually.

MFL, not so much.

Talkinpeace Sun 08-Sep-13 17:38:39

how much experience of them in the last 15 years do you have upon which to base your opinion?
(you, your children, your siblings, your DH)

volestair Sun 08-Sep-13 17:47:12

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

MrsMongoose Sun 08-Sep-13 17:48:57

Was usual when I was at school. I got my A*s despite the kids around me aiming for Ds. My teachers were very good at adapting the subject matter to fit different standards of kids. Ask the school - they will have had to support kids of all standards for years - there will be provisions in place.

Talkinpeace Sun 08-Sep-13 17:51:08

Some of the trouble here seems to be unambitious teachers treating an A* as the best you can expect of the bright kids
DCs school stops at 16.
Where would you expect them to aim at if not an A*

And if you start the A Level course early, do you send them to Uni too young to cope with it socially and emotionally

or do you hold them back slightly in some subjects and stretch them sideways (as recommended by Richard Feynmann)

more haste less speed

Rufus43 Sun 08-Sep-13 17:54:36

elliepac thank you very much for that, very helpful and it will stop me going to school all guns blazing and looking like a twat!! I will speak to the history dept and ask for advice on how to help him achieve at school and home

I do see what thefourmarys is saying, my boy is a bit of a coaster and also is quite shy\has self esteem issues so would probably not ask for extra work so I will work on that a bit more on that with him and get him to take control of his education

Rufus43 Sun 08-Sep-13 17:55:47

Thanks mrsmongoose

Anthracite Sun 08-Sep-13 17:56:15

If the school runs multiple classes of options subjects, it will be because they are in different option blocks. If you tried to set some subjects, this would mean restricting the options choices. Do you want your child to have a free reign over her option choices, or have her only mix with students of a similar ability? It's a trade-off.

TheFourMarys Sun 08-Sep-13 18:19:06

Volestair I think you have got to the root of my worry about mixed ability classes. I can see that the highest ability children can get their A stars at GCSE but what happens at A level?

Just reading the discussions on here is enough to understand that there can be a real problem with the jump between GCSE and A level. Perhaps not so much with History, but definitely in subjects like MFL, Maths and Sciences.

This is why I worry about the failure to stretch the brightest to achieve their potential. I fear that teachers will think achieving the A star is enough - but if the child is aiming at these harder A levels with the goal of studying them at a top university, he or she will have their work cut out. Certainly the ones who are easily discouraged will not be aiming as high as they might have done had they been challenged and developed all the way through KS3 and KS4.

Rufus43 Sun 08-Sep-13 18:20:50

anthracite I did my exams nearly 30 years ago and chose most of my options. I understand the block system now its been explained up thread but this is my first GCSE child and I didn't realise that he would no longer be set for a lot of his subjects

A lot of fab info in here and you are quite right If I have to choose I would rather it was this way round

Phineyj Sun 08-Sep-13 18:21:04

I can see <how> a mixed ability class might be made to work effectively now (although my goodness - making four sets of resources for each lesson sad). What I don't quite get is <why> it's thought desirable to work like this, unless it's unavoidable because of timetabling issues. Is the idea that students will benefit from realising others have different abilities? I'm sure they learnt that in primary school! Why would a bright child want to stretch themselves when they are already uncomfortably aware of the gap between themselves and those who are struggling, and vice versa. A to C I can see would work, but A* to E?

When I read threads like this I always wonder if people would advocate mixed ability sport or music teaching (for exams, as opposed to playing).

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