Very recently I asked the question about the thorny topic of student grouping:
Is it better to group students based on their prior ability, in mixed ability groupings, or something in between?
I went on to share some evidence from the EEF Toolkit, which is broadly critical of setting by ability models, whilst also citing Chris Husbands’ blog on the evidence and a large Metlife survey from America that showed US teachers could struggle with mixed ability grouping models.
I posed the following questions for when we tackle such a decision in schools:
– What teachers are securing the best student outcomes and what are they doing in our specific context and subject domain?
– Given the spread of ability in groupings, either by setting or mixed, how do I best use oral and written feedback to improve learning?
– Are the issues I am trying to tackle with our grouping questions about learning difficulties/challenges in our subject/school, or are they about behavioural problems? How do these two issues interrelate in my context?
– How will I help students better understand what learning looks like in my subject domain (metacognition)?
– How will I ensure my students are highly motivated to learn in our context? How crucial is student motivation in my context?
– In a mixed ability model, how are our ‘high starters’ still challenged in class and beyond?
– How will I ensure all students have mastered the content and what will I do if small groups haven’t done so, without holding back those who have (mastery learning)?
Now, an important update has just popped into my inbox in the form of the excellent IEE ‘Best Evidence in Brief‘ Newsletter (I do recommend you sign up if you haven’t already). It cites a new article from Cambridge University article entitled, ‘Exploring the relative lack of impact of research on ‘ability grouping’ in England: a discourse analytic account’. It identifies some reasons for the poorer progress of students in lower ability groups:
- Misallocation to groups;
- Lack of fluidity of groups;
- Lower quality of teaching for low groups;
- Low teacher expectations for low groups;
- Pedagogy, curriculum, and assessment applied to different groups;
- Pupil perception and experiences of “ability” grouping, and impact on their learner identities; and
- These different factors working together to cause a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Interestingly, setting by ability has been conflated with high academic standards, as opposed to mixed ability. Perhaps the large scale EEF trial on setting and mixed ability teaching, of which Huntington is part, can adjust stereotypes and common conceptions of students grouping in the minds of both parents and teachers. It would certainly prove no easy fix, but the finding will be very interesting.
If you are interested in debates and trials related to student grouping, then get yourself over to Huntington School in York on the 9th of July for ResearchEd York – get your tickets HERE!