Task 8- Gritty but set

Posted by Charlotte on Jun 6, 2016

After having read Boaler’s article, I have to admit that I think my views on setting students may be seen as a little backwards. As a younger person I’m supposed to be full of hope that we can revolutionalise teaching and make big changes to improve it for the next generation. However, if I’m 100% honest, I still feel that the majority of my schooling was successful and could have been improved with even better setting.

I changed secondary schools just before I started my GCSEs and in a few subjects my first school was quite significantly further along with the syllabus. I was, particularly in Maths and French, way ahead of my peers. This meant that I was finishing my work within less than half of the time set and felt like a burden asking for extension after extension and I wound up helping out the other students and not particularly extended my own learning. As useful for revision as it was to help others learn, I can’t help but feel somewhat under-pushed. If my class had been at my level, like my previous school, I feel I could have been pushed further and probably achieved an extra GCSE.

As a Teaching Assistant, I have also experienced things at the other end of the spectrum. The SEN and lower ability students I have worked with find it a struggle when the other students in the class are of a much faster pace. When you’re slower to pick up on a concept, having other people around you getting it faster can be extremely detrimental to self-esteem and confidence. A group of similar ability students boost each others confidence, from what I have seen.

This being said, I do acknowledge that shoving all of the lower ability students in the bottom set with the disruptive students from the higher sets, which I have also witnessed, can also be awful to self-esteem. This can also make students feel as if they worthless. Labeling as a bottom set, or low ability sets could also create a feeling that they can’t be pushed further or achieve higher than a grade predicted for them when they were 12. This links with Boaler’s views of a lack of ‘growth mindset’.

I think that encouraging this mindset by creating a boosting environment and a good class atmosphere pushes students to work hard and push themselves and others, linking in with Duckworth’s talk. As I have said in previous pieces, I definitely agree that hard work, grit and determination are huge deciders in success. When an individual rests on their laurels and stops trying it is very unlikely that they will achieve their full potential.

At the end of the day, I think the most important part of this isn’t that the students are in a mixed ability or ability based set, but that the students and teachers are pushing them regardless of this.


  1. aw677
    7 June 2016

    I do agree with a lot of what you have said here and actually experienced much the same within my own education, however I do find it really difficult to reconcile the dismissive attitude of students in the lower sets as it were. Many are more capable than they allow you to believe and wear the fact that they are ‘no good’ at maths as a badge of honour. I think what we really need to address is attitudes towards Maths and how the subject is perceived as a whole.

    • fbontemps
      8 June 2016

      That’s true, children are susciptible to negative comments and once they believe they are ‘no good’ some would behave as you said, perhaps, as a defence mechanism, whilst others would tend to give up completely.

  2. pepsmccrea
    7 June 2016

    Agree that setting is a complex issue, and agree that it’s less about setting, and more about how teachers approach the demographic of their class. Setting and mixed ability can both be managed poorly. It’s about the mindset of the teacher as much as anything…

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