Be flexible! Be ready for them to jump up or for you to give them a boost!

Over these experiences I’ve learned much about ability grouping and how we make use of them in our classrooms. We’ve discussed the pros and cons, some different strategies that can assist these scenarios, and the importance of how we approach what we teach.

I wanted to briefly remind you of what I believe is the most important aspect of our teaching, no matter what setup we individually choose; be flexible. Teaching is a wonderful profession, but it is imperative that we are flexible and adapt our teaching to our students.

Now, how exactly does this relate to my inquiry? Well, while my math class is ability-grouped, I must still acknowledge that there are varying skills levels within this small class, and there are concepts that some students might master while others will be challenged. As the teacher, I must do my best to adapt to my students needs. In a slighter bigger picture, my colleagues and I must also be flexible, we must be ready to adapt our math groups when a student is ready to move up or should move down to a different ability level math group. Regular and consistent communication within our colleagues is vital, it allows us to be aware of our students’ progress as well as the benefit of planning unit across the ability levels. This is a particularly strong skill as we have found the students do enjoy that all their classmates are studying the same unit concepts just with a difference of varying skill levels. Collaboration is key to our profession and we must make sure we actively pursue it!

I leave you with this quote from an unknown source:

“If a child cannot learn in the way we teach, maybe we should teach in a way they can learn”

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I found this great article that discusses the question of who benefits when it comes to ability grouped classrooms for mathematics. I do feel that this article leans more on the negative aspects of ability grouping, and bringing in some statistics that I wasn’t aware of. However, as with many educational articles on certain scenarios and classroom setups I do think that every classroom has its own dynamics and reasons for why it is setup in the manner the teacher feels appropriate.

I find my classroom to be one of these cases where my sponsor teacher and his colleagues have discussed the strengths and challenges of our whole group of Grade 6/7 students and have decided that ability grouping is the best way to benefit our students. A lot of the negative reasoning the writer states is in regards to the low-level ability groupings, and I connected most with these statements as I am currently teaching the intervention group of the three ability groupings for math at our school. My students really struggle with math, and several of them also struggle with literacy (which makes worksheets quite the challenge). These students however are best engaged when the lesson is dynamic and non-traditional, which differs from the description the writer states for low-level ability groupings. I love that in my class I can get my students to be interested in math by connecting it with physical motions and cues that we all participate in as a class. And while yes, my concepts are simplified that doesn’t mean that my students feel disengaged or that I’ve lowered my expectations for them.

This article was a great find and it made me think of both sides of these scenarios, but most importantly it actually reemphasized to me that there are ways that we can peak our students’ interests and engage them while making sure they feel they are owning their learning 🙂

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Small Group Instruction

Mr. Thain shows us in this video his approach to small group instruction. While I don’t necessarily set up for a classroom like this there are some great ideas in this video. What connects most to my experience is the first few steps here in which Mr. Thain assesses his students so that he can then place them into ability-based learning groups. This step is what my sponsor teacher and the other two Grade 6/7 division teachers at my school did early on in the school year to now have our math groups. Something I did find interesting with Mr. Thain’s class is that his groups are set up for both Math and Reading in the same groups. While at times there may be similar ability levels for students in a group for both of these areas, I certainly don’t think that I would want to group my students in a group that is the same for both areas. Although, I can see the positive aspects of students being able to learn collaboration and building relationships with these other students in their group, as they would spend a significant amount of time together because of the two learning areas.

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Guided Math Groups to Differentiate

I am aware that I have an advantage in that my math ability group class is comprised of only 9 students. Having a small class gives me the ability to facilitate teaching to a guided level while not placing a large class-wide lesson that might be above my student’s level. I can relate to this short video as in our classroom I can regularly attend to even smaller groups of students and assist them with a focused guided exercise. While I am working with a group the rest of my students can be working on their own laptops on Reflex Math or IXL.

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Let’s teach for mastery — not test scores | Sal Khan

This was a great TED Talk by Sal Khan talking about teaching for mastery rather than the current educational model with tests and checkpoints. Sal discusses the issues with a broken system that allows us to advance even while clearly stating that there are knowledge gaps in our learning, if you get 87% in a test it’s perceived as great, but what about the 13% that you don’t know. Sal argues that we are proceeding without mastering the foundational concepts that lead to our continuing knowledge. Eventually, all these knowledge gaps add up and that is when we find ourselves hitting a wall and believing that “math isn’t for me” (or any other subject/concept that is in question). He has a great analogy comparing the current educational model with building a house, where the foundation is 80% good, so we continue on to build on top of it, and unsurprisingly when we are building the third or fourth floor the entire building collapses.

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