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Teachers of the world - mixed ability classes for humanities. Why, why, why?

(27 Posts)
maria1665 Thu 08-Oct-09 23:59:05

Our (good) local comprehensive streams for maths and english, but does not steam for humanities until Y9.

DS is a bright lad, but is FAB at history - reads about it constantly at home, History channel - the whole bit. (No real surprise - his Dad runs museums.) But he hates history at school - saying it is dull and people mess around.

The subjects he likes best are those in which he is streamed.

What are the advantages of mixed ability classes? Are there any advantages for bright kids?

DailyMailNameChanger Fri 09-Oct-09 00:05:51

Not having to have so many teachers for subjects that take up fewer cirriculum hours, maths, english etc are high hour subjects and so can have more teachers full time, humanities cannot support that number of teachers as it covers fewer hours per week.

It may be frustrating but schools can barely afford the teachers they have, finding more just to stream for these subjects would probably break most schools.

maria1665 Fri 09-Oct-09 00:09:57

I can't see that's the issue. Its a big school - 2o0 intake. They have sufficient teachers to teach - why not arrange the classes into ability instead of just forms. Same number of teachers required surely.

DailyMailNameChanger Fri 09-Oct-09 00:15:14

No, streaming only works if there are (for example) three full classes for each year group running at the same time as each other (assuming you want top middle and bottom sets). Very few schools can maintain that kind of teacher cover TBH. If there is a 200 intake I would guess there are one or, at most, two classes running at once for a year group, there is no way to effectivly cut that into streams without employing more teachers.

madwomanintheattic Fri 09-Oct-09 00:29:37

largely irrelevant to stream specifically for these subjects unless the school streams across the board (and you are likely paying for the privilege).

every child has a 'thing' that they want to learn without others bothering them. for your ds it is history, for others it will be languages (in my school the kids ran bets to see how soon they could get the teacher to cry and walk out).

not practical in real terms to assess how 'good' a child is at every single subject and allocate teaching resources accordingly in state schools.

and, in general terms, humanities aren't valued as much culturally. yr 7 and 8 is just about giving them a taste of things to come. being 'good' at them in isolation is unlikely - the skills they are using at that level are likely to have been honed in the more politically sensitive (and thus funded) subjects...

i'm not arguing against the value of them per se - just that at the level they are being taught, it is irrelevant to stream for academic reasons.

maria1665 Fri 09-Oct-09 00:47:37

Fail to see the arguments. My 1970's comp was massive - 2100 children - but we were setted for everything.

Aren't comprehension skills, communication written and oral, relative to history and geography. Aren't schools missing a trick by not using these as an opportunity to 'hone the more politically sensitive subjects'.

Meanwhile clever kids get bored.

BTW - children at DS's school are streamed for languages.

Since when did we get so disinterested in history - its probably one of the most important subjects there is.

DailyMailNameChanger Fri 09-Oct-09 00:53:16

Fair enough, sorry your son is having a tough time, it is difficult when a child is not being fully stretched - although I doubt someone who does as much themself as your son is ever going to find state history lessons particularly challenging, streamed or not.

bellabelly Fri 09-Oct-09 00:53:49

As an English teacher who has always taught mixed ability classes, I would say that one definite advantage for the more able kids is that talking through the topic actually reinforces their own understanding (as well as helping out their less able class mates). If your DS is keen on history, I can totally understand that it is frustrating for him if other kids are messing around and disrupting the lessons but that is a behaviour issue that needs dealing with, rather than the mixed ability-ness of the class.

Are the maths and English classes taught in smaller groups while non-streamed lessons are taught in larger groups - probably tutor groups? Class size can make a huge difference to learning and sadly most state schools can't afford smaller class sizes for non-core subjects.

maria1665 Fri 09-Oct-09 01:09:30

The classes are all 30 max - I spoke to the head of history today.

She said she'd prefer streaming earlier, but the decision of the humanities department was for mixed ability until year 9, and it was under discussion to delay streaming until options in Year 10.

Asked about provision for gifted and talented, about which she said 'a work in progress.'

I've always defended state education. I'm a bit cross tbh. I was hoping for a deluge of responses convincing me of the benefits of mixed ability classes.

MrsFlittersnoop Fri 09-Oct-09 01:52:19

My DS has just moved to a new school, joining year 9.

He was in top sets for all humanities subjects in his last school, and was working at level 7 in History at the end of year 8.

Now put in middle sets for ALL subjects - school policy for new entrants.

1st piece of homework - DRAW a poster for the Great Exhibition. shock shock

2nd bit of homework - add graffiti to poster.

All very well I guess, but young Flittersnoop is already feeling deeply unmotivated.

In his last (nasty urban bullying school) he had to do v. complicated essays and Powerpoint presentanions from Year 7 onwards.

Mixed ability teaching is a real prob. for some kids. (DS has just been diagnosed as dyspraxic/aspergers). DS always coped by hanging on (just about) in top ability classes where there was less disruptive behaviour.

maria1665 Fri 09-Oct-09 02:44:35

Too tired to respond properely, but hope things work out, Mrs F

nooka Fri 09-Oct-09 03:19:57

I don't think that streaming is especially required outside of Maths and languages, where the class being at the same level really makes a difference. But I did go to selective schools, so I guess the divide between top and bottom wasn't that wide. dh went to a school which ran streamed classes - you were A, B, C etc (quite common for some private schools) which I think is really dumb, as it's quite possible to be very good at one subject and really quite bad at another, and I also think full year streaming divides children in an unhelpful way.

Sorry your ds is finding history boring - I found history was one of those subjects that totally depends on the teacher. With a good teacher it is fascinating, but with a dull one it is boring.

seeker Fri 09-Oct-09 06:21:32

Isn't this about behaviour management rather than streaming?

bruffin Fri 09-Oct-09 08:12:11

DC's state comp school stream/set from year 7 maths, english. All the other subjects are another set but they are not mixed ability they have still been set by CAT scores.

Bucharest Fri 09-Oct-09 08:19:50

I agree with Nooka- the best teacher I ever had (and am still in touch with, even though I'm 44) was my history teacher...

Way back in the olden days at my school we weren't streamed for anything until O'level options came up and I still enjoyed all subjects except maths...<bleargh emoticon>

Also agree with Seeker re behaviour management....

GrendelsMum Fri 09-Oct-09 09:23:34

Also agree re behaviour management rather than streaming.

Also think that a bright young person could with the right guidance (which perhaps wasn't available) have made a very good learning point out of making a poster for the great exhibition and then graffiting it - it actually seems to be making some interesting points about what was the official way in which the GE was promoted, how did the nation see itself and reflect that in the GE, how did individual towns see the GE, and then how did a variety of other groups see the GE. This was probably the idea, but didn't come out when the pupils were told what the homework was?

maria1665 Fri 09-Oct-09 10:06:51

But where does a teacher pitch her lesson, knowing that some kids will be alienated by certain levels of discussion.

For instance, GrendelsMum's example of how the Great Exhibition homework could provide an opportunity of the nation's self image at the time.

That homework set for an able class could cover that.

But if you have a class of 30 mixed ability - surely you do not have the opportunity to stress the more obscure aspects of a subject.

DailyMailNameChanger Fri 09-Oct-09 10:17:55

Maria, probably not, the state school system is not perfect. Core subjects are given mpore time, other subjects less. Someone has to draw some line somewhere.

If you are really concerned could you not look into getting a tutor for history who could pitch at his level?

lazymumofteenagesons Fri 09-Oct-09 11:21:22

Don't think streaming is the answer here.You can get a very bright child who finds history dull (although if taught well it shouldn't happen). DS(2) although at independent school,it is completely non-selective and the ability range is huge. No streaming outside the core subjects and languages.

This is more of a behavioural issue, which should be addressed anyway.

snorkie Fri 09-Oct-09 11:30:07

I think the argument for is that it works better for the middle/lower abilities, but worse for the higher abilities. Supposedly more people benefit than lose. The behaviour management is generally easier across the range too (but again the losers tend to be the higher abilities).

So, it is a tricky one - if more people gain than lose then maybe it is a good thing. Also, if the exams are pitched so that the more able can achieve top grades in spite of their more difficult teaching environment (which they do seem to be), then maybe no-one really loses.

Reallytired Fri 09-Oct-09 11:44:43

Schools in Finland do not stream, yet they have some of the highest achieving children in the world. Differentiation can and does work. Primary schools have mixed ablity classes

Prehaps what is needed is there to be consequences for mucking about. For example children without special needs who are lazy often fail their end of year exams and end up losing a year. The humilation of this is fairly horrific though and it really hurts children with undiagnosed special needs.

I think an interesting experiment would be to set children by behaviour. The kids with major behavioural issues could be in a tiny class (maybe 4 or 5 children) with an exceptionally experienced teacher and LSA.

maria1665 Fri 09-Oct-09 11:53:51

I think my personal solution for the time being - having slept on the subject after the rather dispiriting chat with subject head - is along the lines of our own gifted and talented scheme at home. Books, trips, etc. What we are doing now I suppose.

I never thought of a tutor - someone who could inspire him on, without muddying the waters regarding what they are teaching on the curriculum.

Another solution might be a History Club within the school - there could be a bit of a debating thrown in. I feel a whole new thread coming on - 'Has anyone set up a History Club in their school'.

It just shows - getting cross about something can be a creative process.

Thanks for input on this.

TheFowlAndThePussycat Fri 09-Oct-09 13:21:06

Hi there, hope I'm not too late to chip in - I'm a history teacher and most recently taught in one of the rare state schools where history is compulsory at gcse (have been on mat leave/sahm for a couple of years). We taught all kids in mixed ability clases.

There is good evidence to show that streaming makes teachers lazy, they shove colouring projects at the lower streams and worksheets at the top stream - sorry, this is a caricature but I'm just using it to make a point (yes I've done it too!) Nevertheless some of the best teaching happens in mixed ability classes. However behaviour management has to be good and differentiation (adapting tasks for all ability ranges) needs to be spot on. This is really hard so perhaps your ds's teacher is struggling a bit - again, I know I did.

My other thought is that perhaps your son is bored because history at school isn't really like the history channel or visits to museums. Because factual info is so easily available these days history teaching is more focussed on historical skills ie evaluating information, thinking about the 'bias' of sources, writing coherent arguments etc. All students need these skills and they are transferrable to 'real life', eg to help them understand that newspapers/ websites all have a particular angle. Sometimes teachers focus on this too much to the detriment of the 'story telling' about history which is a valuable part of the subject and the thing which draws a lot of pupils to it.

Anyway, sorry just reread this and it is v dry, but I hope it's relevant at least!

webwiz Fri 09-Oct-09 14:29:24

My DD was taught in mixed ability groups right the way through and including GCSE at a non selective state school and it never occurred to me that it should be any different. She has had very enthusiastic (ie slightly mad smile) teachers and the work is challenging and interesting. In fact she is now taking AS History. DS is in year 8 and I'd say he's working at quite a high level in history as well. Maria I think that your DS is suffering because the teacher isn't sorting out the bad behaviour.

madwomanintheattic Fri 09-Oct-09 16:11:58

i'd just like to point out that the GE homework thing is fairly typical - and actually in class tends to be used much as the later poster suggested - ie to get the class to think more deeply about 'official' and opposite views etc etc. certainly the classes where i have supported statemented children (all mixed ability classes as not streamed until options) were run on exactly those lines.

i've been lucky enough to work with some very good teachers who automatically differentiated work for each sub-group within the mixed ability class. i would have about 6 children to support who were working at a very low level, whilst she stretched the rest of the group and extended the more able... the only situation where this didn't work was when behaviour problems disrupted all teaching. nowt to do with streaming.

french revolution drama was interesting though...

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