Category Archives: Classroom Practice

Sorting your class into ability groups.

If you mention ability groups to some schools and teachers they will throw their hands up in horror and tell you it is the worst thing ever!

Yet in many schools you will find ability groups that are spread across year groups and occasionally across key stages – so why this spread of opinion and just what is the approach to take?

Well let’s look at the basic premise:- ” Children need to have work set at an appropriate level which challenges, consolidates and reinforces their knowledge and skills.”

That’s it really – that’s the baseline from which you have to work with your class.

Now that’s all well and good but aren’t teachers then faced with a whole class of differing individual levels that need to be addressed – yes technically that’s the case. I once had a teacher come to see me in a panic because she was differentiating work in her class and was trying to accommodate 10 differentiated levels…the workload she had set herself was enormous and of course not sustainable.

Differentiation is, of course, a completely different topic and my article on this can be found through the search bar on this site. However it is enough to say that differentiation is NOT simply different levels of work!

So do I personally recommend ability groups in class – the broad based answer is YES I do and the qualification is… but only where appropriate -in other words only for some stuff!

In which areas can I use ability groups?
Let me give you a list:-
1. Guided Reading / comprehension
2. Spelling groups / dictionary work
3. English Grammar
4. Maths number (occasionally- you be the judge)

So how do I decide who goes where?
In one word – TEST
It’s as simple as that – you have to know the ability of the children to be able to group them together. Now this doesn’t mean that you start to carry out exhaustive diagnostic testing – no; a simple “start of the Autumn term” test will give you the basics from which to begin. From this starting point you can adjust the groups as and when the children progress, fall behind or you find that they have a better (or worse) ability than you initially thought. But before you start to panic; the actual movement of children is never very much, with your original test giving a pretty good result.
We are looking for 3 groups to cover the whole class.

Keep your test simple and quick
It’s simply a matter of concocting a test which has questions set at 3 levels. Let me give you an example:-
Spelling groups – which children go into each of 3 groups to take home and learn the class weekly spellings?
Conduct a spelling test of 21 questions taken from the previous years spelling list. Take 7 questions from each of 3 levels from the words. All children do the same test.
Correct answers decides the group:
0 – 7 ….Group 3
8 – 14…Group 2
15 – 21..Group 1
It’s as simple as that – there is your starting point.

Guided Reading – Choose 3 different passages with differing levels and pre judge the children’s ability (this could be based on their spelling levels or on previous teacher comments). Administer the comprehension and questions in the usual way and mark the results. Using your professional judgement as to whether each child completed the test satisfactorily or not then group the children into 3 ability groups.

Why just 3 groups? – because it’s manageable. Experience shows that this is the best number of groups to successfully manage within your classroom. Any more than this and not only does your workload increase significantly but your planning will start to fragment as will the results from the children – stick with 3. This is not to say that they are 3 equal groups; nor that the same children will be in the same groups (1,2,3) for everything. Some children may have more difficulty with maths than lets say comprehension. You will find that the spread of numbers will be heavy in group 2 as you would expect and less so in groups 1 and 3. However you now have your basis for setting work that is appropriate for the children in each group.

Why only certain subjects and areas within the curriculum?
Primary education is completely different from secondary in its approach and method. There are many areas of the curriculum where children can actively learn and respond at their own level and contribute not only individually but also in mixed ability group situations. These are represented in the majority of the foundation subjects but also in areas of the core – an example being “Speaking and listening” in English.

So there you have it – ability groups are an excellent method of targeting work to children’s ability and progress in various areas of the curriculum. Not only does it help focus your planning and guide your assessment but it provides the children with the appropriate levels of challenge and success that focus and encourage the children’s learning.

A simple classroom management approach for a “young class.”

Classroom management strategies and behaviour management strategies run hand in hand across every aspect of your classroom and teaching. Together they form the foundations of everything you do.

We have looked at the principals behind both classroom management and behaviour management and then extended this to build, apply and implement our own working systems.

All classes are different – 

One size does not fit all – by that I mean that because you have successfully used a particular system with one class then it will follow that the same system will work for another.

However, the basic format and approach CAN be used – in other words YES you can start out by applying the same system you have used before but you should be prepared to modify and change this as the needs of your class require.

So why do I say this?

I was in a school recently and a member of staff came to me with a problem. She wasn’t having behavioural problems as such but had a class that were both chatty and very slow to settle when asked.

By combining her behaviour and classroom management strategies she had introduced a system that noted how long the class took to settle when asked and deducted this time from their playtimes or  lunchtimes. It was a system she had used with a previous class and the stopwatch was displayed on the interactive board.

The problem that she was having was with this year group it didn’t seem to be as effective and the class was having to stay in quite a lot!

Looking at the problem

If you have read my article on Chatty classes then you will see that this method is one (among many ) that I recommend as a good approach and in fact it was one that this colleague had used well in the past. So why wasn’t it working so well this time and how could we modify things to make it effective?

On investigation the teacher began to realise that it seemed to be the same children who were not settling or becoming quiet when asked – this of course means that in starting the stopwatch the rest of the class was, in effect, having to miss time BECAUSE of these individuals.

It also came to light (it was a Y3 class) that the class had a disrupted year last year with 3 teachers across the academic year….meaning 3 different approaches to teaching, expectations and of course discipline!

Basically …they were a YOUNG CLASS!

So what did we change?

There were 2 things that we had to consider…

  1. The stopwatch approach wasn’t working so we needed different
  2. We wanted to avoid the whole class being caught in the attitude of the few who were dragging their feet.

This is what we did

Having recognised that the class had a disrupted Y2 we decided to move back to a practical and visual  approach when the class were asked to settle or become quiet.

We used the simple technique of

  1. Asking for quiet
  2. Teacher putting their hands on their head – the children copy….5 seconds
  3. Teacher (without speaking) put their hands on their shoulders …5 seconds
  4. Teacher (without speaking) puts their hands down and the children either put their hands on their laps or on the desk.
  5. At this point…the whole class should be quiet (and the majority will be)
  6. However – This now allows the teacher to identify those children who are still talking or not settling down…in other words we have shifted the emphasis from a whole class to individuals.
  7. Any child not sitting quietly is now told to “stand up” – these can then be told that they have not listened or done what is expected and their names are then moved onto the behaviour management system or names / ticks etc on the board.

 

As you can now see the teacher has now moved to a visual and interactive stimulus for quieting the class. Even if some children do not hear the teacher ask for quiet they will see what is happening around them and know what it means. The approach also takes the stopwatch timing away from the whole  class and lands on the individuals concerned who as we have said previously “take responsibility for their own actions”

Conclusion.This was our solution to the problem that this colleague was experiencing. The basics of her approach were right but just needed modifying to suit the needs of that particular class. Once this was introduced the problem soon went away and things settled down nicely.

[This illustrates a very basic routine of movements that many of the children will already know. The actions are, of course, simply a 3 part visual system that involves the children and you could alter or change these as you wish. ]

Hope this may be of help – as it surfaced recently I thought I would pass it on.

Charles