Category Archives: Learnings with an almost 6yr old

Ability Grouping & SOLO Taxonomy

One of the things I have been doing this year, is being Parent Help in my sons yr2 class. I am rostered in for one of the math lessons each week. This post may come across as being highly critical of my sons teacher which I do not want to be as she seems super competent, experienced and the students love her. Also, I am in a very naive position, only getting small snapshots into this classroom. Having said that, some things just hit you in the face and get you thinking.

So…….. In this class, they use grouping where the teacher will have a small group to work with on the mat while the two other groups are engaged at different activity stations or book work. My job as parent help is to keep the other groups on track and help where I can. I like this set up and do not know why I haven’t adopted it in my own High School Teaching – working with small groups and rotating them around. You kind of do it by going to different groups as a lesson goes on but I like the whole kinaesthetic get up and move around stations thing.

Anyway, it appears that the groups are ability based and this is where I have a problem. The groups are the Circles, Squares and Triangles but these students already now that they are the top, middle and bottom.  I found this out because I went to check on the Triangles (my sons group) and help them get organised. Their task was to play some math games in the Math corner. I saw a game that looked good and challenging for where I know my son is at but none of the kids would touch it. Why? Because it came from the squares box and they were in the bottom group and that was too hard for them. I was amazed at the conviction they had and I could not convince them to break the perceived rule that they could only do stuff from their own box. This totally spun me out to the point I spent the rest of the afternoon researching best practice on ability grouping. I am sure that my sons teacher has the best intentions and has diligently set up differentiated learning activities for students so they can work autonomously but in doing so, she is also embedding a belief, as said by one of the girls, that they are not good enough and that they are the bottom group.

I am particularly sensitive to this as one of the things I have to spend a lot of time on in a high school setting is convincing these students later in life about their potential as learners (remember Success = Effort + Effective Strategies). By this time, they no longer think of themselves as the Triangles but rather the “Cabbage Class” or something similar. I was totally freaked out that these 6yr olds were beginning to self label as not good enough and the risk that they will carry this for the rest their lives.

This is being a valuable lesson for me in my own teaching practice and I welcome any thoughts or reflections upon it. From my own thinking and the couple of hours I have spent online researching, here is what I have found and thought so far:

Research about Ability Grouping

I do not want to do a literature review (If anyone has done one, I would love to read it) but there is lots of research that supports both the negative and positives of ability grouping. From my brief look, I think the opposition side to ability grouping wins.

If you are going to use Ability Grouping…

If you are going to use ability grouping, there is a thing called best practice and this is labour intensive on the teacher (thus I suspect not done or forgotten). The main principle is that groups need to be flexible and constantly changing. For example, it is not good enough for a student to be fixed in a math group for the whole year. The teacher needs to be looking for opportunities to move students – for the fractions unit, addition unit, and so on. Even if this is done for social engineering purposes to stop these kids self labelling themselves as dumb, I am all for it. Also if you are going to create differentiated sets of learning activities, I think, the set for the lowest group still needs to have activities that allow the students to surprise you or have a go at more complex tasks. This aligns with a SOLO framework but more on that later.

Also, I believe, that if you are going to ability group, it is essential that the pathway for success to the top group is visible and understood by the students. This is more than “try harder”, it is about making visible strategies for success and helping students improve and be cognisant of themselves as learners.

SOLO to the rescue

Again and again I am reminded how a SOLO framework attends to best practice and the development of engaged, enthusiastic and positive learners who can see a pathway to success rather than accepting a fixed label for their ability in any given thing. Via simple rubrics (like the ones I have posted on this Blog or from the experts like Pam Hook, Julie Mills and increasingly other teaches around the world) we can empower students to see themselves as learners on a continuum where they can identify their own next steps for improvement rather than grow to believe they have fixed ability and a limited future.

Sorry, a bit full on but this topic really got me thinking. I know I do not have a wide readership and this blog is more about me pontificating and collecting my thoughts than a wiki for growing collective knowledge but if you or your colleges have thoughts or strategies on or around ability grouping, I would love to hear and share them.

Being a Reading Ninja Functional Reubric

Right, lets see if this works. Our son knows some strategies for reading but he often gives up before he has really given them a go. The purpose of this rubric is to show him a pathway for success and thus I am hoping he will be more cognisant of the process of learning to read and also be more motivated and persistent in his efforts.

Who wouldn’t want to be a “Reading Ninja”! We will see how it goes.

I would be curious to see what others think.

Being like a reading ninja

Quick update: Day one: this evening, Nico got to a tricky word and wanted his Mum to take over reading. Then he remembered and said NO! I’ll do it. He proceeded to sound out the rest of the paragraph and thus demonstrate Ninja Reading skills. High Fives all round…. It’s so much fun being a parent.

Using SOLO to become a Reading Ninja

This post comes under the “learning with a 6yr old” category. I am not primary trained and thus have a lot to learn about teaching at that level (particularly patience) but I like getting involved with our sons learning. I also live in fear of what traditional teaching at both primary and secondary level can do to kill the joy of learning in students. I don’t know enough to critique Nico’s teachers and it is inappropriate to do so in this sort of forum, but we have been getting a bit worried about our sons reading and attitude to reading. In particular, he has stagnated on level 8 books which is below where he “should” be (given pushy parents expectations and national standards).

Now there is a whole lot of stuff in that. You could say, boys often take longer, he’ll catch up and so on but what freaked me out was that he just stopped enjoying reading and started saying opposite words when he was reading, reading the books upside down and stuff like that. When Nico was 4, he loved learning, weather it was figuring out where the pee went in a men’s urinal or how far out the Oort Cloud was in the Solar System. He would also make up cool stories that went on and on. He has now learned that the expected length is three sentences and doesn’t want to write beyond that.

Anyway, we decided we needed to be more proactive in helping Nico with his reading. I am new to twitter (I only have 66 followers) but I thought I would put out a plea for help from the twitter community. I got some great ideas, particularly from @helenOfTroy01 @1Mvd and @digitallearnin . They offered some great online digital learning websites. This pretty much confirmed one of our thoughts. That is, that the books Nico was given at school really had zero appeal to him but when presented with choice and games to play online, he loved it and launched into it. He was also happy to have a go at books that were challenging or way more tricky than what he was getting at school. This is another thing I am worrying about and that is the use of ability grouping (which has a pretty low effect size according to John Hattie’s research compared to allowing for acceleration which rates much higher). I am caught on this though as maybe there is value in being in a reading group where you feel “safe” – not sure.

The other thing we have done these holidays is buy a couple of sets of “Top Trumps” which is a card game where you compare different things (deep sea creatures, wonders of the world, dinosaurs, Starwars characters and heaps more). Nico cannot get enough and it is full of literacy and numeracy. In four days, he has learned to say numbers in the thousands and is sounding out all sorts of complex words and feeling success at doing so.

The other thing we have noticed is that Nico would prefer not to read if he thinks he might get something wrong. To help with this, I am working on a SOLO rubric for reading. The purpose is to make a pathway to success visible to Nico rather than him just not being able to do it (which is what he thinks). I only just started on this and I talked through a first draft  with him at bed time. We decided that extended abstract was “knowing and showing that with effort and effective strategies you can have a go at anything (reading) even if you get really tired. You don’t give up.” This we are calling being a “Reading Ninja”. It was my wife’s turn to read to/with Nico tonight (and I wanted to write this all down) but after the front loading stuff with the rubric and the appeal of being a “Reading Ninja”, he was unstoppable. On a challenging chapter book he was sounding out and nailing words he had never read before. He didn’t want to stop until they at least got to the bit where the characters would start fighting.

When/if I get the rubric done, I will post it. I am sure there will be teachers that can improve or modify it. Also, a big thanks to the PLN – which took me a while to figure out is my slowly growing personal learning network.