Articles on: Literacy

Why does PLD advocate for three ability groups instead of four or five?

Why does PLD advocate for three ability groups instead of four or five?

The Phonic Sight Word Sequence Placement Test presented each term requires the students to be placed into ability groups (and hence, targeted teaching groups). Teachers frequently ask, why does PLD advocate for only 3 groups, and not 5 or 6?

On the basis of the placement tests, students are then placed onto tracking sheets; and

The short answer is that three groups typically SHOULD be a manageable process and that regular class teachers SHOULD be able to cope with three ability groups within their class, without streaming, cross setting etc. Central to PLD's message is that ALL primary school teachers should never be delivering one level of instruction. Whether it is an Early Years or Year 6 class, all classrooms teachers should be delivering differentiation. From PLD's perspective, 3 levels of differentiation are likely realistic. FOR MANY SCHOOLS THIS WILL REQUIRE A CHANGE IN THE CULTURE OF THE SCHOOL.

Firstly, if teachers are creating 5 or 6 groupings, they are typically engaged in very simple class profiling, which looks something like the following;

Stage 1 target 2 - 2 students
Stage 1 target 3 - 4 students
Stage 1 target 4 - 3 students
Stage 2 - 7 students
Stage 3 - 7 students
Stage 4 - 5 students

While this can be done. Teachers can implement 5 or 6 groups, but the cost is extra planning time and a slightly more involved implementation process.

For ease of management, three levels are typically ideal. Using the scenario above, if the focus of the groups are slightly widened combination groups can occur.

Stage 1 target 2 (6 words) and Stage 1 target 3 (4 words) 6 students
Stage 1 target 4 (5 words) and Stage 2 (5 words words) - 10 students
Stage 3 (6 words) stage 4 (6 words) 12 students

Combination groups typically work well when students have emerging skills over the two levels.

In some Year 5 and 5 classes, 4 groups may be necessary, but rarely does PLD advocate for 5 or 6 levels.

Some teachers and schools will elect to 'cross-setting' or streaming students. While PLD DOES NOT advocate for this situation (but rather that teachers deliver 3 levels of targeted teaching within the range evident in any classroom) this may be allowable (from the school's administration) if each of the following conditions occur:
Time efficiency (as working with other classes and moving students around can consume time.) Structured synthetic phonics in Year 1 and 2 should not exceed 35 minutes and in years 3-6 should not exceed 25 minutes.
Results - The majority of students should show positive gains in the areas targeted and their percentage test scores should demonstrate progress within the termly tracking.
Teachers instructing a specific group, should still be differentiating.A teacher instructing for example the stage 2 students, should not be delivering one level of instruction. There will be students operating with low levels of stage 2 accuracy (e.g. 12-25%accuracy) and there will be students operating at higher levels of accuracy (e.g. 55-70% accuracy) One group requires nearly all stage 2 concepts and it is likely that these students are still making a few errors last in stage 1. The other group should likely have stronger stage 1 accuracy and are requiring final concept to be taught before progressing onto stage 3.
Tracking of student profiles, should be organised not into class groups showing the three targeted teaching groups, but according to the group/teacher allocated and the differentiation for that group should also be reflected with the processing of the tracking.

Should any of these conditions not be met, PLD's opinion is that the 'cross-setting' or streaming should cease. Over the years PLD has received evidence of year levels collaborating effectively (as evidence by the positive results) but more commonly, PLD has seen this approach operate poorly.

Updated on: 17/03/2020

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