Advertisement

Grouping Practices in New Zealand Mathematics Classrooms: Where Are We at and Where Should We Be?

  • Glenda Anthony
  • Roberta Hunter
Article

Abstract

The practice of grouping mathematics students by perceived levels of attainment, commonly referred to by teachers as ability grouping, is a contentious and long-standing topic of debate in education. Responses from a survey of 102 mathematics support teachers affirm the widespread use of ability grouping within New Zealand primary school mathematics classroom. This contrasts recent literature that suggest changes towards more flexible heterogeneous grouping practices aligned with collaborative problem-solving learning environments will better support equitable and productive learning opportunities. In this paper, we explore teachers’ levels of satisfaction with current grouping practices, with a view to understanding the potential for changes. The mathematics support teachers indicate that postgraduate study, experimentation within their own classrooms, and success working with problem-solving group tasks with struggling students have all served to prompt their rethinking of grouping practices. However, responses also point to teachers’ uncertainty around change, the desire for extended professional learning support and exemplars of alternative practices, and the importance of whole-school leadership within a change process. It is clear that multi-levels of influence will be needed to disrupt embedded practices of ability grouping that currently serve to exclude and marginalise groups of disadvantage groups of students.

Keywords

Ability-grouping Primary school Achievement Equity Mindset 

References

  1. Alton-Lee, A. (2014). Using educational research as a resource for continuous improvement in education: The best evidence syntheses. In J. Kincheloe & S. Steinberg (Eds.), A companion to research in education (pp. 209–213). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Alton-Lee, A., Hunter, R., Sinnema, C., & Pulegatoa-Diggins, C. (2011). BES Exemplar1: Developing communities of mathematical inquiry: Retrieved from http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/goto/BES.
  3. Anthony, G. (1996). When mathematics students fail to use appropriate learning strategies. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 8(1), 23–37.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Anthony, G., Hunter, J., & Hunter, R. (2015a). Prospective teachers’ development of adaptive expertise. Teaching and Teacher Education, 49, 108–117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Anthony, G., Hunter, R., & Hunter, J. (2016). Whither ability grouping: Changing the object of groupwork. In B. White, M. Chinnappan, & S. Trenholm (Eds.), Opening up mathematics research. Proceedings of the 38th annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia (pp. 116–123). Adelaide: MERGA.Google Scholar
  6. Anthony, G., Hunter, R., Hunter, J., & Duncan, S. (2015b). How ambitious is “ambitious mathematics teaching”? Set: Research Information for Teachers, 2, 45.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Anthony, G., Rawlins, P., Riley, T., & Winsley, J. (2002). Accelerated learning in New Zealand secondary school mathematics. Australian Journal of Gifted Education, 11(2), 11–17.Google Scholar
  8. Ball, D. L., & Forzani, F. M. (2011). Building a common core for learning to teach and connecting professional learning to practice. American Educator, 35(2), 17–21.Google Scholar
  9. Bartholomew, H. (2003). Ability groups and the construction of different types of learner in mathematics classes. In L. Bragg, C. Campbell, G. Herbert, & J. Mousley (Eds.), Mathematics education research: Innovation, networking, opportunity. Proceedings of the 26th annual conference of the Mathematics Education group of Australasia (pp. 128–135). Sydney: MERGA.Google Scholar
  10. Boaler, J. (2002). Experiencing school mathematics: Traditional and reform approaches to teaching and their impact on student learning. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum.Google Scholar
  11. Boaler, J. (2008). Promoting ‘relational equity’ and high mathematics achievement through an innovative mixed-ability approach. British Educational Research Journal, 34(2), 167–194.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Boaler, J. (2012). From psychological imprisonment to intellectual freedomThe different roles that school mathematics can take in student’s lives. Paper presented at the 12th International Congress on Mathematics Education Korea.Google Scholar
  13. Boaler, J. (2014). Ability grouping in mathematics classrooms. Encyclopaedia of Mathematics Education, 1–5.Google Scholar
  14. Boaler, J. (2015). The elephant in the room. London: Souvenir Press.Google Scholar
  15. Boaler, J., & Staples, M. (2008). Creating mathematical futures through an equitable teaching approach: The case of Railside school. Teachers College Record, 110(3), 608–645.Google Scholar
  16. Bracey, G. W. (2003). RESEARCH: Tracking, by accident and by design. Phi Delta Kappan, 85(4), 332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Burris, C. C., Heubert, J. P., & Levin, H. M. (2006). Accelerating mathematics achievement using heterogeneous grouping. American Educational Research Journal, 43(1), 137–154.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Chamberlin, M., & Caygill, R. (2012). Key finding from New Zealand’s participation in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in 2010/11. Wellington: Ministry of Education.Google Scholar
  19. Civil, M., & Hunter, R. (2015). Participation of non-dominant students in argumentation in the mathematics classroom. Intercultural Education, 26(4), 296–312.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Cohen, E. (1994). Designing groupwork: Strategies for the heterogeneous classroom. New York: Teachers College.Google Scholar
  21. Education Review Office (ERO). (2013). Mathematics in year 4 to 8: Developing a responsive curriculum. Wellington: New Zealand Government.Google Scholar
  22. Elley, W. (1984). To stream or not to stream. Set: Research Information for Teachers, 2, 1–10.Google Scholar
  23. Engeström, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding: An activity-theoretical approach to developmental research. Helsinki: Orienta-Konsultit.Google Scholar
  24. Engeström, Y. (2001). Expansive learning at work: Towards an activity theoretical reconceptualization. Journal of Education and Work, 14(1), 133–156.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Fisher, H. (2014). ‘It would help if the teacher helps you a bit more…instead of going to the brainiest who don’t need a lot of help’: Exploring the perspectives of dissatisfied girls on the periphery of primary classroom life. British Educational Research Journal, 40(1), 150–169.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Forgasz, H. (2010). Streaming for mathematics in years 7–10 in Victoria: An issue of equity? Mathematics Education Research Journal, 22(1), 57–90.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Francis, B., Archer, L., Hodgen, J., Pepper, D., Taylor, B., & Travers, M. (2015). Exploring the relative lack of impact of research on ‘ability’ grouping in England: A discourse analytic account. Cambridge Journal of Education 1–17.Google Scholar
  28. Friedrich, A., Flunger, B., Nagengast, B., Jonkmann, K., & Trautwein, U. (2015). Pygmalion effects in the classroom: Teacher expectancy effects on students’ math achievement. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 41, 1–12.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Golds, R. (2014). Cross-grouping in mathematics. (Masters Thesis). Auckland University of Technology: Auckland.Google Scholar
  30. Haenga, L. (2015). Parent engagement in mathematics education (Masters Thesis). Massey University: Palmerston North.Google Scholar
  31. Hand, V., & Gresalfi, M. (2015). The joint accomplishment of identity. Educational Psychologist, 50(3), 190–203.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  33. Hodgen, J., & Marks, R. (2009). Mathematical ‘ability’ and identity: A sociocultural perspective on assessment and selection. In L. Black, H. Mendick, & Y. Solomon (Eds.), Mathematical relationships in education (pp. 31–42). New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  34. Hornby, G., & Witte, C. (2014). Ability grouping in New Zealand high schools: Are practices evidence-based? Preventing School Failure: Alternative Education for Children and Youth, 58(2), 90–95.Google Scholar
  35. Houssart, J. (2002). Simplification and repetition of mathematical tasks: a recipe for success or failure? The Journal of Mathematical Behavior, 21(2), 191–202.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hunter, R. (2008). Facilitating communities of mathematical inquiry. In M. Goos, R. Brown, & K. Makar (Eds.), Navigating currents and charting directions. Proceedings of the 31st annual Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia conference (pp. 31–39). Brisbane: MERGA.Google Scholar
  37. Hunter, R., & Anthony, G. (2011). Forging mathematical relationships in inquiry-based classrooms with Pasifika students. Journal of Urban Mathematics Education, 4(1), 98–119.Google Scholar
  38. Hunter, R., Hunter, J., Bills, T., & Thompson, Z. (2016). Learning by learning: Dynamic mentoring to support culturally responsive mathematical inquiry communities. In B. White, M. Chinnappan, & S. Trenholm (Eds.), Opening up mathematics research. Proceedings of the 38th annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia (pp. 59–73). Adelaide: MERGA.Google Scholar
  39. Ireson, J., Hallam, S., & Hurley, C. (2005). What are the effects of ability grouping on GCSE attainment? British Educational Research Journal, 31(4), 443–458.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Jorgensen, R., Gates, P., & Roper, V. (2014). Structural exclusion through school mathematics: Using Bourdieu to understand mathematics as a social practice. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 87(2), 221–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Kaur, B. (2014). Evolution of Singapore’s school mathematics curriculum. In J. Anderson, M. Cavanagh, & A. Prescott (Eds.), Curriculum in focus: Research guided practice. Proceedings of the 36th annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia (pp. 24–36). Sydney: MERGA.Google Scholar
  42. Lambert, R. (2015). Constructing and resisting disability in mathematics classrooms: a case study exploring the impact of different pedagogies. Educational Studies in Mathematics, 89(1), 1–18.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Liem, G. A. D., Marsh, H. W., Martin, A. J., McInerney, D. M., & Yeung, A. S. (2013). The big-fish-little-pond effect and a national policy of within-school ability streaming alternative frames of reference. American Educational Research Journal, 50(2), 326–370.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Marks, R. (2012). How do pupils experience setting in primary mathematics? Mathematics Teaching, 230, 5–8.Google Scholar
  45. Marks, R. (2013). ‘The blue table means you don’t have a clue’: The persistence of fixed-ability thinking and practices in primary mathematics in English schools. FORUM, 55(1), 31–44.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Marks, R. (2014). Educational triage and ability-grouping in primary mathematics: A case-study of the impacts on low-attaining pupils. Research in Mathematics Education, 16(1), 38–53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Miles, M., & Huberman, A. (1994). Qualitative data analysis. Thousand Oaks: Sage.Google Scholar
  48. Ministry of Education. (2008). Numeracy professional development projects 2008, Book 3: Getting started. Wellington: Learning Media.Google Scholar
  49. Ministry of Education. (2015). Mathematics Support Teacher fact sheet (retrieved from http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/System-of-support-incl.-PLD/School-initiated-supports/Programme-for-Students-PfS).
  50. Mueller, M., Yankelewitz, D., & Maher, C. (2014). Teachers promoting student mathematical reasoning. Investigations in Mathematics Learning, 7(2), 1–20.Google Scholar
  51. Nunes, T., Bryant, P., T, Sylva, K., & Barros, R. (2009). Development of maths capabilities and confidence in primary school (No. Research Report DCSF-RR118). London: Department for Children, Schools and Families.Google Scholar
  52. O’Neill, J., & Snook, I. (2015). What will public education look like in the future and why? New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 50(2), 195–209.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Ramberg, J. (2014). The extent of ability grouping in Swedish upper secondary schools: A national survey. International Journal of Inclusive Education. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tied20. doi: 10.1080/13603226.2014.929187.
  54. Rattan, A., Good, C., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). “It’s ok: Not everyone can be good at maths”: Instructors with an entity theory comfort (and demotivate) students. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. Retrieved from http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0022103111003027
  55. Sahlberg, P. (2011). The professional educator: Lessons from Finland. American Educator, 35(2), 34–38.Google Scholar
  56. Schleicher, A. (2014). Equity, excellence and inclusiveness in education: Policy lessons from around the world. Report prepared for the fourth international summit on the teaching profession. Paris: OECD.Google Scholar
  57. Shinno, Y., Kinone, C., & Baba, T. (2014). Exploring ‘what Japanese students find important in mathematics learning’ based on the third wave project. In C. Nicol, S. Oesterle, P. Liljedahl, & D. Allan (Eds.), Proceedings of the Joint meeting of PME 38 and PME-NA 36 (Vol. 5, pp. 169–176). Vancouver, Canada: PME.Google Scholar
  58. Slavin, R. E. (1990). Achievement effects on ability grouping in secondary schools: A best-evidence synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 60(3), 471–499.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Stigler, J., & Hiebert, J. (1999). The teaching gap: Best ideas from the world’s teachers for improving education in the classroom. New York: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  60. Stylianides, G. J., & Stylianides, A. J. (2014). The role of instructional engineering in reducing the uncertainties of ambitious teaching. Cognition and Instruction, 32(4), 374–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Sullivan, P. (2015). Maximising opportunities in mathematics for all students: Addressing within-school and within-class differences. In A. Bishop, et al. (Eds.), Diversity in mathematics education (pp. 239–253). New York: Springer.Google Scholar
  62. Thrupp, M., & White, M. (2013). Research, analysis and insight into National Standards (RAINS) Project Final Report: National standards and the damage done. Hamilton: Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research.Google Scholar
  63. Turner, H., Rubie-Davies, C. M., & Webber, M. (2015). Teacher expectations, ethnicity and the achievement gap. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 50(1), 55–69.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. University of Otago & NZCER. (2014). National monitoring study of student achievement, mathematics and statistics 2013. Wellington: Ministry of Education.Google Scholar
  65. Walls, F. (2002). Sociomathematical worlds: The social world of children’s mathematical learning in the middle primary years. (Doctoral thesis), Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, NZ.Google Scholar
  66. Walls, F. (2004). The ‘mathematically able child’ in primary mathematics education: A discursive approach. In I. Putt, R. Faragher & M. McLean (Eds.), Mathematics education for the third millennium, towards 2010. Proceedings of the 27th Annual Conference of Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia (pp. 549–556). Townsville: MERGA.Google Scholar
  67. Wilkinson, S. D., & Penney, D. (2014). The effects of setting on classroom teaching and student learning in mainstream mathematics, English and science lessons: A critical review of the literature in England. Educational Review, 66(4), 411–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Wilkinson, I., & Townsend, M. (2000). From rata to rimu: Grouping for instruction in best practice New Zealand classrooms. The Reading Teacher, 53(6), 460–471.Google Scholar
  69. Zevenbergen, R. (2005). The construction of a mathematical habitus: Implications of ability grouping in the middle years. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 37(5), 607–619.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© New Zealand Association for Research in Education 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of EducationMassey UniversityPalmerston NorthNew Zealand
  2. 2.Institute of EducationMassey UniversityAucklandNew Zealand

Personalised recommendations