We ran out of time in today’s meeting and so I thought I’d write a BB post. We touched on setting at the end and I thought I’d share a personal account that I wrote in December last year to try and explore/explain not just my feelings but also to highlight some research – Caroline, Sarah and Dan have already seen it.
Making it personal:Setting
Until I became a teacher I had always been in the top sets whether it was primary school, secondary school, or university. I didn’t necessarily achieve top grades but I always appeared in the top classes. I sailed through my PGCE and in my first job was rapidly promoted to various positions of responsibility culminating in 14-19 English Coordinator. Then it stalled. I went for Heads of English but failed; including at my own school. I stopped being in the top group and got stuck in Set 2. I had always had a tendency towards fixed mindset thinking and this kicked in massively. I stopped applying for jobs and I suppose gave up too easily. I did not listen to feedback from interviews and felt that others were simply ‘better’ and I would never be as good. I continued to work hard but avoided taking risks and being brave. I put in a lot of effort but perhaps more because I was scared of failure and how other people’s opinions of me would change if I failed.
Since September this has changed.
I have been given the opportunity of being Curriculum Manager of English for a year and because of this I am in the top group again; Leadership Group. I am energised. I love the challenges. I am learning all the time; it took four attempts at writing a Development Plan and I enjoyed the process of ‘failing’ and having to rewrite sections. I feel inspired by others rather than wishing I was in their place. I am developing a growth mindset and know that this time the effort I am putting in will not change other people’s views of me. I have the confidence for that not to matter. It’s only for a year but I am now filled with possibilities rather than might have beens.
It’s made me think about setting.
I’m lucky. I have my exams and my degree and my career and my family and my house and my holidays. What about those who never get the chance to experience life in the top set? Research indicates that 88% of children placed in sets or streams at 4 remain in the same groupings until they leave school; so much for catering for ‘late developers’. (Annabelle Dixon writing in Forum 2002).
Over to the experts
Sir Tim Brighouse at the 2012 London Festival of Education quoted from Archbishop Temple prior to the 1944 Education Act “Are you going to treat a man as he is or as he might be?” Surely our job is to guide students towards their true potential? Inventor of the IQ test Alfred Binet explained ‘With practice, training and above all, method, we manage to increase our judgment and literally to become more intelligent than we were before.’
Robert Slavin found in 1990 that “the effects of ability grouping on student achievement are essentially zero”. This is most strongly supported at KS3.
In 1997 Jo Boaler, Professor of Mathematics at Stanford University, studied two 11-18 comprehensives Phoenix Park and Amber Hill. “A comparison of the most able students at the two schools showed that the students achieved more in the mixed ability classes of Phoenix Park than the high sets of Amber Hill.” For me the most telling of her findings “…the placing of students in academic groups often results in the fixing of their potential achievement”
In 2002 Dylan Wiliam and Hannah Bartholomew on looking at sets concluded that teachers ‘forgot’ that setted classes still need to be differentiated. The same teachers teaching a mixed ability class would provide a wider range of activities and approaches and use a more individualised approach. They acknowledged that ability grouping in mathematics leads to high attainment in the top sets but that there is a loss for the lower attaining students.
In 2003 Scottish research revealed that ‘the fast pace and competition that emerges in top sets can prove to be an issue for the motivation of girls” : Chris Smith and Margaret Sutherland.
Professor John Hattie’s research (1999-2009) concluded that ability grouping had an effect size of only 0.12.
The Sutton Trust’s pupil premium toolkit in May last year on ability grouping found “There may be some benefits for higher attaining pupils, but these are largely outweighed by the negative effects on attitudes for middle and lower performing learners.”
In September Jill McManus, Institute of Education, South Tyneside, was the winner of this year’s BERA/SAGE Practitioner Research Award for her project that influenced a secondary school to change its policy. She studied how motivation and pupil progress is influenced by ability grouping. She paid particular attention to borderline students and was able to track two cohorts of pupils from Year 7 to 11; one taught in mixed ability groupings and the other in ability bands. Her findings were that the top bands and the mixed ability groups were more engaged and and more inclined to volunteer answers and less likely to avoid challenge. The middle band classes exhibited ‘helpless behaviours’ which led to low level disruption. Interestingly the students who made the greatest gains were those with the lowest ability and those with family, health or social issues.
Back to me
I have taught both Set 1 and Set 9. It would be wrong of me to hide the enjoyment of teaching top sets but it would be more wrong to ignore those students who have lost their motivation, whose self esteem is so low that they see no point in trying; those students who may have been in lower sets for most of their school life; those students who have been told that their TGs are D or below, believe that D stands for fail and ‘know’ they have little chance of success. Little wonder they have lost their hunger for learning.
http://joboaler.com/pub/BoalerWiliamBrownBERJ.pdf (2000) Students’ experiences of ability grouping—disaffection, polarisation and the construction of failure
Dweck, Carol ( 2006) Mindset: How You Can Fulfil Your Potential
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qaeFnxSfSC4 (2009) Dr Angela Lee Duckworth True Grit: Can Perseverance be Taught?
Syed, Matthew (2010) Bounce
Bromley, M J (2012) The IQ Myth: How To Grow Your Own Intelligence