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Mixed Ability Groups/talk Partners


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Hi I teach Year 2 and have recently had some training on the benefits of using talk partners and peer evaluation, which I would like to introduce more into my class, using random talk partners that change each week, lollysticks etc. rather than just the 'turn to the person next to you' I have done before. I love the idea of the partners working together and sitting together at their tables all the time for the week, the training pointed out that ability groups were often very negative and children benefit from this mixed ability approach, but am interested if anyone does this for all their literacy/Numeracy and so children sit in their mixed ability pairs all the time and no longer in ability groups. The training I had talked about giving all children the same LO and context and success criteria, but just change the task a bit for access, ie. some children had a partially written story, some wrote from scratch. I wonder if anyone does this and how it works in practice if you have 2 children who are talk partners working on different levels of the task and how you organise your class/day. I'd like to use more of these ideas and less ability groups, but not sure how it works with differentiating in practice. I have for a long time thought sitting on a set table all the time, can be quite negative, but wondered how people differentiate effectively if it's not just by outcome if they always work in mixed ability? Thanks for all top tips!

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I'm only a PGCE student at the moment but my Year 2 placement used this. In terms of differentiation, the children all had a number (1-4) which related to their ability, although not in the most obvious way. They were seated in groups of four, so at mixed ability tables. when the teacher or I set work though some times it was differentiated by task and other times by outcome. This meant that sometimes the children worked in their (mixed ability) table groups and other times in ability groups. They all had a mixed ability carpet partner, although occasionally I mixed these up according to evidence of ability I had observed in earlier lessons in the same area of learning. I found it worked really well with some children, especially in providing opportunities for children to show their abilities in different areas. For example I had one very LA child paired with a HA one. However the LA child had the best ear for rhyme in the class. When paired together the two did some fab work on poetry simply because he could hear it and she could write it!

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I was convinced that this was the way to work and tried it in my school. I could have made it a success with time but it was not what the HT wanted to see in terms of differentiation etc and I was slatted in an observation.

Check, therefore, that you have the freedom to work your class in this way and good luck. I am sure you and the children will benefit.

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Guest LornaW

Susan is right make sure the SLT will support you but otherwise mixed ability grouping is for me the only way to go! You may already have looked at the work of Mary Jane Drummond Learning without Limits and also the work of Carol Dweck on fixed mindset and growth mindset all of these support the idea of mixed ability. In my career I have taught both ways and can tell you children made the most progress in mixed ability groups and I taught at my best during this time. It doesn't mean that sometimes you won't take a small group of children who need specific support and work with them but on the whole if we work in mixed ability the LA children will make far greater progress and research shows that the HA children are NOT held back.

 

My own children (now fine young men!) went to a school that set them in groups and both found this very frustrating and then one day my youngest came home and said the teacher had changed the groups, I said that he must be happy, no he replied he was now having to sit next to the naughtiest most diruptive boy in the class who wouldn't stop chatting! You can't win!

 

As adults we don't put ourselves into ability groups and if we want to get better at something we play with someone better than us and I just love Holly35's example mixed ability groups do work!

 

Lorna

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I have had mixed ability talk partners for a while - I pull pairs of names from a pot and they sit with that partner on the carpet for 2 weeks. The only rule that I make is that they can't be partners with the same person two fortnights running. It works well, highlights some different skills and friendships/partnerships which are good.

 

More recently when it comes to independent work at tables if I have a focus group (which may be the same ability) I sit them at the same table then arrange the others so they are all mixed up - ability and behaviour wise. This originally started partly as a way to split up some of the more disruptive elements in my class and partly to mix up the abilities. It works well because those apparently HA but less confident children get to see/use some of the additional support that the others are accessing and the LA can see examples of what they are working towards. It particularly helped one boy who had real problems with finger spaces because he could see what the work on either side of him looked like.

 

Frequently I tell the children that they can work where/how they like as long as they are working and not disturbing others. Lots of them choose to get a whiteboard (we have some old, thicker ones) to lean on and work lying on the carpet. It looks funny but is invariably peaceful and productive whenever visitors walk in.

 

I'd second what the others said though - my head is very happy for this to happen - in fact we'd talked about having mixed ability groups in a staff meeting but other heads I have known wouldn't be!

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