Set ‘Em Up! by @Mroberts90Matt

Well, was able to finally sit with the other teacher in my year group today and get some planning done! Was a great relief, partly because it was good to get something down on paper and partly because we got along so well! As stated before in my post on collaboration, I think this working relationship will be key to, quite frankly, my sanity and happiness in my NQT year!

One discussion point we had was group setting in English and Maths. The school’s policy is to group children by ability in these areas. An idea was generated for Maths. In my final placement, I had seen an interesting trend. I was teaching the lowest ability across a Year 3-6 band in a 1 form entry school. Thus, my class were about 60% Year 3s, 30% Year 4s and 10% Year 5s. I couldn’t help feel there were a number of issues with this:

1.Children’s self esteem
How would you feel if you were one of those Year 5 children in a class of children who would be 2 years younger than you? It would be a serious barrier to a child’s learning if they were made to feel that inferior that they were sent 2 years below most of their peers.
On the opposite side, there were a couple of Year 4s in the highest ability class with mainly Year 6s. There are serious fundamental issues here as well as self-esteem. Complacency may creep in. If those children are working at the level of Year 6s, why put effort in until they are Year 6? However, the more serious problem I think is the problem of knowledge and understanding. Children’s learning is scaffolded, principle building upon principle. How can this occur when a big chunk of content is skipped? Those Year 4 children would need to develop their understanding in more basic areas of Maths before they step up to more advanced concepts.

2. Logistics
Schools are busy places. If a school is not busy it is not doing something right. This can be to the detriment of learning occasionally but that is the natural way of the institutions. On top of that, sung the need to move children across 4 classrooms for one lesson adds to that. What if one year group is on a trip. Those children miss an ongoing lesson of input and the absent class teacher can’t teach their pupils so those children are left hovering in a session that isn’t suited to their ability. It can just get messy, but this can be avoided I suppose. Ofsted (2000) even found timetabling when setting groups in subjects to be an issue, and as Ofsted say it, it must be true…(insert cheeky wink)

3. Mathematical Concepts
This, to me, was the biggest sticking point. When I received the Maths group list, I noticed that the children were grouped using an overview Maths level given at an end of year assessment. So, here before me were children labeled with a best fit level. The first concept I had to cover was Shape. Some children excelled far beyond what I expected from the level given me, others struggled. Later, we moved to Number. Different children excelled. Others, some of whom had excelled in Shape, struggled with the Number learning activities. An issue started to materialise – this general level wasn’t sufficient to make informed decisions in planning children’s learning, which is one of the points of setting in groups.
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As we discussed this, we came to a joint decision… Our aim is to still group by ability, however, do so by area of Maths rather than a general Maths assessment. So Number, Calculations, Shape, Measure etc. will be preceded by a short assessment which, alongside previous data, will form our groups for each concept area. I think our biggest challenge will, again, be logistics. For example, where is my book? I can see that happening a lot – but with some good planning hopefully we’ll see some results. It should, however, overcome some of the regular challenges of setting, mainly the self-esteem (because generally most children have one area in Maths they are stronger in and will want to be challenged in more) and also the building of conceptual blocks for each individual child.

Maybe you feel strongly against setting in groups for certain subjects? I know in the past I have been cautious about considering setting in groups but this idea had ticked a lot of boxes for me. Do you group by ability? How does that work in your school/year group?

References
Ofsted, 2000. The National Numeracy Strategy: the first year. London: Ofsted.

Photo Credit: Ol.v!er [H2vPk] via Compfight cc

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