“My math lessons are all about learning from your mistakes”: how mixed-attainment mathematics grouping affects the way students experience mathematics

2017-12-11T14:31:14Z (GMT) by Tom Francome David P.L. Hewitt
Mixed-attainment mathematics teaching is not a common practice in England despite evidence that ability grouping is not an effective strategy for improving educational outcomes. This study compares mathematics in School M (mixed-ability groupings) and School S (sets) in relation to student beliefs, and teacher beliefs and practices. Questionnaire data from 286 students and twelve teachers were triangulated with lesson observations and interviews. This article suggests grouping practices could indeed influence students’ mindsets, teachers’ mindsets and teachers’ beliefs and practices. An above average proportion of students in both schools reported growth orientations although these beliefs were held more strongly by students in the mixed-attainment grouping. School M teachers also held stronger growth-mindsets than School S teachers. Mathematics teachers in both schools reported connectionist beliefs but the students’ experiences differed. Most students in School M perceive typical mathematics lessons as involving a substantial problem or challenge worked on collaboratively in pairs or small groups, and having several entry points. Students in both schools valued learning from mistakes but School M students were more likely to both believe this would help them, and have access to this type of learning opportunity. Despite teachers’ connectionist beliefs the teachers of sets were less able to align their teaching with their views and students experienced mathematics as procedures delivered by teachers and reproduced by students. This has implications for further research as mixed-attainment groupings may be a factor in determining the way in which students experience learning mathematics.