Teaching without sets or groupings

Joe Maguire on Twitter

Would be interested to hear tips / experiences of primary colleagues who have abandoned ALL sets and groupings #LearningFirst @BeyondLevels

Conference_28th_Jan_2017_-_Mixed_Attainment_Maths There is a great deal of interest in this post from people visiting the site. You may also find Helen Hindle’s Mixed-Attainment Maths website of interest. Her website has been created to enable teachers of mixed-attainment maths classes to share resources and ideas. http://www.mixedattainmentmaths.com/

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25 comments
  1. Children have learning partners who are picked at random and changed each week. This means they regularly change where and who they sit with so there is no fixed ability groups. In maths particularly, I plan two or three challenges at different levels of difficulty. Tricky, Trickier and Trickiest. The 1st challenge is always challenging enough to meet the expectations of the curriculum for that year group ie. it’s not too easy! Then subsequent challenges deepen their thinking on the same objective.

    Learnt this from Wroxham Primary school – Alison Peacock. Learning without limits is the book but I’ve never actually read it – just seen it in practise and used it!

  2. I work in a similar way to the above post, we’ve now developed challenge by choice across school (we have bronze, silver, gold). I mainly use this approach in maths. Children move themselves on when they feel ready and we offer deeper learning challenges too. The children like this and are definitely more motivated. We have never set, and I really have never liked teaching in sets.
    I do still have groups for guided reading.

  3. As both above. Children have talk partners (picked at random, changed weekly) so no fixed ability groups. Challenge of activity is by choice- ours is mild, spicy, hot. Children are year 6 and have never needed much direction. They are very comfortable and adept at choosing the task that is the right challenge for them. They know they can vary from lesson to lesson and within lessons if necessary. Activity/ task is shown under the visualiser so they are able to make an immediate judgement as to which to undertake.

  4. As with Ali, we use mild, spicy & hot. The chd can articulate what they choose and why. Haven’t had ‘groups’ for ages. In reception the children are offered one and two star challenges – optional – to encourage independent motivation

  5. Similar to above. No fixed ability groups in any subject. Children are sat in set places for two weeks and then change – we felt it allowed for children to get to know their partner’s way of working without it being too long sat next to the same person. Started the mild, spicy, hot through homework and have now developed it into maths. Looking at how we can develop it into other subjects over the next term. Find that the children do choose wisely – Y6 and Y5 adapted to it more quickly than Y4 and Y3.

  6. Very much as above in terms of task and pitch and the use of learning partners. We also use peer teaching quite a lot to develop Depth in learning. Teacher wil still focus teach but this is with flexible grouping based on need and adapt from lesson to lesson depending on aim. This focussed teach will pitch from securing expected to facilitating depth learning by focussed challenge and questioning. We carry out reading in ability and mixed groups, depending on aim of session. Mixed generally for exploring and developing higher level reading skills, pitch of text key. I am not sure I’ve made it any clearer. I may try again tomorrow

  7. I have a mixed-year class so sometimes do have different objectives for y5 and y6 but use choose your challenge within that. (I use mild, medium and spicy). If there’s individuals who need specific support or stretch I may call them together with me or a TA, but only specifically for that concept because I’ve identified it as a specific learning need.

  8. To add to above……
    When introducing this (mild, spicy, hot) to the staff we tried to explain how the different types of activity / challenge set would be accessed.
    To explain this we referred ‘mild’ to be an activity a child would consider themselves less confident with – in terms of working within age related expectations these tasks would support children ’emerging’ within this level. Similarly we considered spicy & hot to be more like the expected and exceeding – demonstrating more secure understanding. Exceeding demonstrates real ‘fluency’ in skills. This could be applied in any subject (although we don’t always make this explicit and don’t always use chilli’s ) it’s the notion and shift in thinking that was the important part – not limiting the learning. The chilli challenge is one that demonstrates deeper understanding – one where they can apply some learning away from the point of learning – these tasks require signifiacnt other learning (than is being directly delivered) Consitently being able to achieve the chilli challenge in a subject could be considered mastery (in terms of ARE) Of course, this is not a ‘formula’ that would go against the principles of Ass wo Levels – it is professional knowledge judgement that is key here. Having said that, staff do need support and direction to enable them to embrace this style of teaching and assessing.

  9. I do similar as previous posters re offering three level of challenge (mainly in maths), but also after about five mins on task, I tend to mark first part of challenge out loud (y6) and give children the chance to change up and swap for the harder task if it turns out they picked too easy an option. Also, when offering the challenges, (more in the earlier days) I suggest which challenge might be suitable to the whole class, eg “If you managed the first part of the input but found x tricky, I’d try challenge one, if you didn’t nexessarily get y right, but know what you did wrong, try challenge two” etc. Also, tend to set challenge level myself on the first day of a u it based on my assessment of individuals during input, tend to give them more opportunity to self select by second/third day. Gives a measure for teacher assessment for those few children that are wildly under / over confident and self select inappropriately. Also identifies early on who will need extra teacher input or TA cstch up during the week.

  10. We got rid of sets and staff have evolved tasks and most now provide children with tasks at 3 different levels of challenge and children explain why they are choosing a task. This has really helped them to be more involved in their learning and has increased their self-reflection skills. Many teachers are now using different seating arrangements and children work with different partners.

  11. I’m very much confused by many of the comments here. I might be interpreting much of this incorrectly but it sounds as if the majority have removed sets and groups BUT still set and group work with the only difference being that children autonomously choose the level they work at??? Surely this could ultimately lead to a watered down version of the system which many claim to have removed, because some children risk not aiming high enough or even to low. Please do not get me wrong, while I am all for empowering children to take ownership of their own learning, I think we are only kidding ourselves if pretend this system is significantly different than before. It is discrete setting to say the least.

    Personally, I set children work across subjects. I set children the work which I feel sufficiently stretches them against the required assessment criteria. When this is complete, we have fun investigating and testing ideas, because that is where the deeper learning is. That is where children learn about the interconnectivitiy of concepts, however the assessment scheme does not directly recognise this, certainly not in this county.

  12. We don’t group children for any lessons, except phonics. Three levels of challenge offered in every session, understanding, applying or embedding. Children pick the level based on their confidence and feedback from teachers/peers. Quickly find they can confidently pick the most appropriate level for them. Our children will explain that they need to selected work that challenges them. Children sit in mixed tables so all have an opportunity to see the different levels, supporting each other to move on rapidly.

    • Hello, I have recently just began this within my teaching. I was wondering if anyone had any planning they would like to share with me. I want to get this right so any help would be appreciated. Thanks

  13. In maths after, teaching input and lesson children choose to put books in revisit, review or push it trays. That then decides the next session. Who needs more input (revisit) who needs more practise (review) and who is ready for next challenge (push it)

  14. Our whole ethos is based on ‘challenge’- we now don’t do sets and children can decide if they need additional help. Children choose the challenge they want. We talk a lot about our challenge zone and how we need to step out of our comfort zone. It is great to hear the children talk about their learning…things like resilience and making mistakes…Sent the deputy on a training day at Wroxham and we’ve taken away the notion of ‘ability’ since!

  15. There are really innovative alternatives to grouping here. The approach I’ve tried to cultivate over the past four years or so, is that ‘all children are able to access all activities’ and also have the opportunity to learn with different peers at different times. It really doesn’t matter what you call the differentiated activities, it’s all about the access, and importantly, the ‘support in order to access’. Traditionally, education has thought that this support to cross that ZPD can only come from the adult; however, as we know there are many ‘knowledgeable others’ in a class so peer support should be utilised and I’ve seen that this really is effective for BOTH parties. I know it’s annoying hearing the word ‘challenge’ all the time, but it’s really important to challenge everyone and not allow ‘more experienced’ pupils to get ‘easy returns’ from activities and then get to thinking they are ‘bright’ or that struggle and failure isn’t learning. We need to make struggle an expected part of learning rather than something to avoid. To end, it’s so very heartening to hear about so much effective practice going on in the face of pressure to label and tag children in so many ways. Brilliant!

  16. Pretty much as above. 3 levels of challenge with fluidity to move between the levels. Mixed ability learning partners. Open ended maths investigations which allow you to question, extend and pick up on misconceptions through dialogue.

  17. We are developing our use of SOLO taxonomy to provide differing depths of challenge and are encouraging children to select their challenge according to their needs. It is in the early days and we need to do a great deal of work in developing the children’s confidence and competence in selecting the challenge that will meet their learning needs. We are not labeling children or discussing them in terms of ability, but are developing the practice of talking about their learning needs. This also relates to staff – I have big problems with describing teachers as ‘good’, ‘RI’ or otherwise as we all have peaks and troughs in our practice. As a leader, I need to help them identify their learning and development needs, just as each classroom leader (teacher/TA) needs to help the children identify theirs. Learning only becomes limitless if we don’t label those trying to learn otherwise they become self-fulfilling prophecies or overwhelmed by the expectation that they will be amazing at everything. I also believe too much emphasis is placed on academia and equal value should be placed on those skills and that knowledge required to do so many jobs that some consider ‘less good’ or not careers.

  18. We introduced ‘chilli challenges’ following a Shirley Clarke course. We made it our own with the children by initially exploring growth mind set. We researched people we admired, including famous and family and chose motivational quotes and pictures to display. We then introduced ‘chilli challenges’ – mild (non-negotiable targets in learning) hot, spicy and an onfire challenge! Our children love to be onfire and the parents think it’s a great hook into learning. We use chilli challenges across the curriculum and for all learning. Children also self/peer assess using the challenges when discussing with talk partners and considering their own progress over time. Also, because we use it across school all the children understand and speak the same language when celebrating achievements.

  19. We have worked hard to build a culture which celebrates difference. We are all different but we know that together we CAN make a difference. No such thing a failure in learning, we just need more help and challenge with somethings than others. In our school community, we live by ‘learning and caring for each other’ whether a child or an adults and everyone is expected to work to their full potential.

  20. I think Andy’s point is very valid but the key is surely not just that we are giving pupils the choice in the level of their work, much less what we call each level (which is clearly chilli-heavy!), but more how we are equipping them to select the right level (can I use the word level?!) and how this is backed up by an overall approach to learning cultivated by the ethos of purposeful challenge. I love the line ‘We need to make struggle an expected part of learning rather than something to avoid’ – we’ve been using something called ‘The Pit’ championed by Andy Griffiths (‘Teaching Backwards’) to encourage our pupils to embrace the often uncomfortable challenge of learning and to recognise that if there’s no grapple there’s probably not much new learning.
    A lot of this is down to the quality of feedback – for example, if by the end of a lesson a pupil presents a page full of correct calculations then they clearly haven’t put themselves in The Pit and challenged themselves enough – the feedback then needs to relate to this (ie their approach to the learning) rather than the actual outcomes. This obviously relates very much to Dweck’s work on Mindset.
    For us I think playing down / abandoning the groupings is about not setting a ceiling on any child’s learning at any point in a lesson or series of lessons and having a more flexible approach to differentiation. It’s also about simultaneously developing those key skills of resilience and self-regulation which really define great learners. If we can equip pupils with the skills to identify their own ZPD rather than us assuming and telling them where we THINK it is (which will often turn out to be wrong) then all the better.

  21. We abandoned sets 9 years ago and for the last 6 years have been conducting teacher learning community meetings every month following the Dylan Wiliam model. Best CPD the staff have ever done as it allows them to choose an element of formative assessment to embed in their practice over 4 weeks and provides the support and challenge of a partner and the group to observe and provide feedback. Last 3 years have been including all TAs in same system. We engage in latest research, consider evidence and have professional dialogues on a regular basis.

  22. We have mixed attainment groups in all subjects in year 7 and aim not to use the term ‘ability’ as it seems unhelpful (and its meaning is hard to pin down). No G&T, as we are very influenced by Dweck’s work and are building our practice on a ‘growth mindsets’ view. We talk about attainment, of course, but see our provision for the lowest attaining pupils as a ‘transition’ arrangement. This includes intensive literacy, maths and social skills interventions to support increasing success in all curriculum areas. No year 8 yet, in this new school; we will develop ‘mixed attainment’ practice as school grows.

  23. I thought I’d come on here and offer you some support but everyone else has said it all- I echo everything they’ve said!

    The only thing I’d add is to listen to the children- it’ll feel tough at first but be brave and you’ll be amazed at what they can achieve. Just enjoy the open-ended challenge that this sort of approach generates- it’s fantastic!

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