# Shifting Teacher Practices in Relation to Grouping: Gap Gazing or Strengths Focused Approaches

## Keywords:

ability grouping, assessment, primary education## Abstract

Both in New Zealand and internationally, there has been a focus on the use of differentiation in mathematics instruction to raise achievement levels and provide equitable outcomes. New Zealand has a long history of the use of ability grouping to provide differentiation. Recently, this practice has been challenged in a large scale professional learning and development (PLD) initiative entitled Developing Mathematical Inquiry Communities (DMIC) which focuses on shifting to strength-based, capability focused heterogeneous grouping practices. This article draws on a case study of five teachers involved in the DMIC PLD initiative to examine the enabling factors and barriers to shifting teacher beliefs in relation to mathematical ability grouping. The findings indicate the persistence of teacher beliefs related to fixed ability levels in mathematics. Assessment practices focusing on narrow domains in regard to success in mathematics appeared to act as a barrier to changing teacher beliefs. In contrast, a focus on strengths that students brought to a mathematical task and collaborative group-work appeared to be a key enabling factor to change in teacher beliefs and practices. A key implication of the article is that changes to assessment practices are required alongside changes to pedagogical practices to support teachers to move from gap gazing to recognising multiple strengths in the mathematics classroom.

## References

Anthony, G., & Hunter, R. (2017). Grouping practices in New Zealand mathematics classrooms: Where are we at and where should we be? New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 52(1), 73-92.

Archer, L., Francis, B., Miller, S., Taylor, B., Tereschenko, A., Mazenod, A., & Travers, M. C. (2018). The symbolic violence of setting: A Bourdieusian analysis of mixed methods data on secondary students’ views about setting. British Educational Research Journal, 44(1), 119-140.

Boaler, J. (2014). Ability grouping in mathematics classrooms. In Encyclopaedia of mathematics education (pp. 1-5). Springer Netherlands.

Boaler, J. (2016). Mathematical mindsets: Unleashing students' potential through creative math, inspiring messages and innovative teaching. Jossey-Bass.

Bobis, J., Russo, J., Downton, A., Feng, M., Livy, S., McCormick, M., & Sullivan, P. (2021). Instructional moves that increase chances of engaging all students in learning mathematics. Mathematics, 9(6), 582.

Boyd, P., & Ash, A. (2018). Mastery mathematics: Changing teacher beliefs around in-class grouping and mindset, Teaching and Teacher Education, 75(1), 214 – 223.

Bradbury, A; (2019) Rethinking ‘fixed ability thinking’ and grouping practices: questions, disruptions and barriers to change in primary and early years education. Forum, 61(1) 41-52.

Clarke, D.M., (2021). Calling a spade a spade: The impact of within-class ability grouping on opportunity to learn mathematics in the primary school. Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom, 26(1), 3-8.

Cobb, P., Stephan, M., McClain, K., & Gravemeijer, K. (2001). Participating in classroom mathematical practices. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 10(1-2), 113-163.

Davidson, A., Herbert, S. & Bragg, L.A. (2019). Supporting elementary teachers’ planning and assessing of mathematical reasoning. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 17, 1151–1171.

Forgasz, H. (2010). Streaming for mathematics in years 7–10 in Victoria: An issue of equity? Mathematics Education Research Journal, 22(1), 57-90.

Francis, B., Archer, L., Hodgen, J., Pepper, D., Taylor, B., & Travers, M. (2017) Exploring the relative lack of impact of research on ‘ability grouping’ in England: a discourse analytic account, Cambridge Journal of Education, 47(1), 1-17.

Grootenboer, P. (2008). Mathematical belief change in prospective primary teachers. Journal of Mathematical Teacher Education, 11, 479–497.

Hunter, J., Hunter, R., & Anthony, G. (2020). Shifting towards equity: Challenging teacher views about student capability in mathematics. Mathematics Education Research Journal, 32(1), 37–55

Hunter, R., Hunter, J. & Bills, T. (2020). Enacting culturally responsive or socially response-able mathematics education. In C. Nicol, S. Dawson, J. Archibald & F. Glanfield (Eds.). Living culturally responsive mathematics curriculum and pedagogy: Making a difference with/in indigenous communities (pp. 137 - 154). Brill.

Hunter, R., Hunter, J., Bills, T., & Thompson, Z. (2016). Learning by leading: dynamic mentoring to support culturally responsive mathematical inquiry communities. In B. White & J. Clark (Eds.), Opening up mathematics education research (Proceedings of the 38th annual conference of the Mathematics Education Research Group of Australasia). Adelaide: MERGA

Jones, I., Swan, M. & Pollitt, A. (2015). Assessing mathematical problem solving using comparative judgement. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 13, 151–177.

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.

Kobett, B. M., & Karp, K. S. (2020). Strengths-based teaching and learning in mathematics: Five teaching turnarounds for Grades K-6. Corwin.

Louie, N. L. (2017). The culture of exclusion in mathematics education and its persistence in equity-oriented teaching. Journal for Research in Mathematics Education, 48(5), 488-519.

MacIntyre, H., & Ireson, J. (2002). Within class ability grouping: Placement of pupils in groups and self-concept. British Educational Research Journal, 28(2), 249-263.

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: For Promoting 3-19. Comprehensive Education, 55(1), 31-44.

Mazenod, A., Francis, B., Archer, L., Hodgen, J., Taylor, B., Tereshchenko, A., Pepper, D. (2019). Nurturing learning or encouraging dependency? Teacher constructions of students in lower attainment groups in English secondary schools. Cambridge Journal of Education, 49(1), 53-68.

McGillicuddy, D., & Devine, D. (2018). “Turned off” or “ready to fly”: Ability grouping as an act of symbolic violence in primary school. Teaching and Teacher Education, 70, 88-99.

Ministry of Education. (2004). Book 3: Getting started. Learning Media.

Ministry of Education. (2008). Numeracy professional development projects 2008, Book 3: Getting started. Learning Media.

Ollerton, M., & Watson, A. (2002). Inclusive mathematics, 11-18. Continuum.

Schuster, E. (2008). Who are the best teachers of Pasifika children? Kairaranga, 9(2), 10-13.

Stipek, D. J., Givvin, K. B., Salmon, J. M. & MacGyvers, V. L. (2001) Teachers’ beliefs and practices related to mathematics instruction. Teaching and Teacher Education, 17, 213-226

Sullivan, P., Askew, M., Cheeseman, J., Clarke, D., Mornane, A., Roche, A., & Walker, N. (2015). Supporting teachers in structuring mathematics lessons involving challenging tasks. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 18, 123–140.

Taylor, B., Francome, T., & Hodgen, J. (2017). Best practice in mixed attainment grouping, Mathematics Teaching, 258, 35-39.

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.

University of Otago & NCER. (2014). National Monitoring Study of Student Achievement, Mathematics and Statistics 2013. Ministry of Education.

Webel, C., & Dwiggins, A. D. (2019). Prospective elementary teachers’ experiences with and perspectives on grouping by ability in mathematics. Mathematics Teacher Education and Development, 21(2), 4–23.