Sunday, July 15, 2012

Teaching without using ablity grouping

Wait for new bad news from the Minister - league tables on theway?

As New Zealand schools become increasingly dominated by compliance requirements relating to National Standards reporting it is not hard to forecast that they will be eventually tightened up by the introduction of National Testing to allow more efficient school comparisons.
When this happens classifying students by ability will become more hardwired and creative, integrated and personalised teaching/learning will become at risk as school do their best to outperform other schools. Schools will feel they have no choice unless they can articulate an alternative.

Learning Without Limits’ provides an alternative – one that aligns well with the approaches of creative New Zealand teachers.
In the UK a number ofteachers were selected who rejected ability labelling. From their experiences common principles were developed for others to make use of.
All teachers involved were subject to OFSTED inspections (in New Zealand ERO Reviews), to the pressures of repeated testing, target settings and league tables. The research was to see how teachers reconciled their own values about ability learning with this agenda and the compromises they had to make on the way and ways of mediating external expectations, and how school contents supported them or acted as constraints. Teachers involved were becoming increasingly bothered by the degree children were being judged by doubtful data based on literacy and numeracy rather than demonstrating worthwhile achievement across the curriculum.
It seems an agenda teachers in New Zealand will have to face up to.
The challenge was to capture from the teachers involved experiences a distinctive pedagogy for Learning Without Limits.
Teachers selected have had little choice but to comply with both external and internal requirements but they all believed in the importance of spontaneous unpredictable acts of meaning making , the limiting aspects of ability grouping and the importance for students of valuing other aspects of learning not being measured such as love of learning, fascination with ideas and imaginative expression.
 The teachers selected wanted their classrooms to be more than targets to be met and boxes to be ticked – to develop their classrooms as learning communities. All teachers wanted their students to be trusted, seen as competent thinkers and recognised for their unique gifts and talents. Classrooms based on intrinsic learning, relevance, purpose, making connections and personal meaning. Classrooms where student’s learning is taken seriously- where their questions and ideas are valued; where students are helped to make choices; where teachers and students negotiate and evaluate learning. Classrooms where teachers learn from their students as students become involved in sustained engagement with their inquiries.
New Zealand teachers will see that such aims reflect the lifelong learning vision of the 2007 New Zealand Curriculum – ‘students as seekers, users and creators of their own knowledge’.
Good teaching is an art form where teachers work with students to ensure they take responsibility for their own learning, helping them value effort ,   and encouraging their students to surpass their previous personal best  - teaching student  skills and strategies  as required individually or in groups. All the teachers created classrooms where all students felt safe enough to keep asking questions until they are confident they understand.
The driving force for all the teachers involved they came to call transformational teaching – a conviction that all students can achieve once the limits of ability grouping is removed. That, in the right environment, all students can dramatically develop their innate learning potential.
All the teachers provided examples of what can be done to strengthen and enhance learning capacity in contrast to the limitations of the use of ability grouping and,  as a consequence, a narrowing of the curriculum.
 The bedrock task is to know how to create the conditions that will maximize the learning for all students – for all students to take increasing control for their own learning,  for them to make appropriate choices; to encourage them to sustain intellectual engagement; to give everybody the best start in life.
Next blog –principles of transformational learning. No surprises for creative New Zealand teachers

If you have time check out this video of teacher Francis Gilbert 'Escaping the Matrix' presented at the Jan 2012 Learning Without Frontiers Conference Starts slowly but ends on a high.


Unknown said...

Great to see our work being shared in New Zealand. Thank you! I gave a keynote address to the National Union of Teachers yesterday, there was overwhelming support for an alternative to ability based practice.
Alison Peacock

Bruce Hammonds said...

Thanks Alison for taking the time to comment. I have found the book very pertinent to the situation we find ourselves in in New Zealand.

In 86 New Zealand introduced a National Curriculum that was very similar to the UK one. Strands , levels and countless learning objectives. In 2007 a new New Zealand Curriculum was introduced which was an enlightening document. Unfortunately a new government has introduced National Standards for children to be compared and reported against and are proposing league tables and no doubt national testing.

So your book was timely. Ability grouping in primary classroom were reasonably benign ( but over time limiting many children's expectations) but as schools have to comply with requirements ability grouping , sorting of students, will make ability grouping less benign and limit the scope of the curriculum.

I am hoping my blogs ( based on your book) might make schools question limiting ability grouping practice.

Teachers will then find themselves in the same position as all the teachers in 'your' book.

Anonymous said...

Well done the both of you.

Allison - I have ordered the book and have eagerly devoured Bruce's blogs.

Do you have any suggestions as to what I could be thinking about in my teaching and learning set up while I await the post!