Ambitious mathematics: Ratios, decimals, fractions and time for Ta’ovala:
Equity, excellence, respect and success through mixed ability groups: the children explain

Introduction/Whakataki

The aim of DMIC is to train students in collaborative problem-solving practices to support their learning of effective mathematical practices and respectful problem solving strategies. This intensive, highly structured teaching approach is designed to support effective teaching and learning for mixed ability groups. Several OECD reports have raised concerns about the prevalence of ability grouping in New Zealand education and the cost of this stratification strategy to children’s identity, opportunity to learn and respect for each other.

Mixed ability grouping used effectively has advantages for high achievers and low achievers.

Change is not easy. Effective use of mixed ability grouping is a challenge for New Zealand education, requiring very skilful planning and teaching. The teachers are required to work hard to raise the status of every student amongst their peers. Everyone benefits when the ambitious mathematics problems over time draw upon the knowledge, expertise and experiences of every child in the class whether they be Māori, Cook Island, Samoan, other identities, or in this case Tongan.

Principal, Stan Whata, explains how the group work contributes to deep learning. Previously, there were just a few voices speaking out in class and they were seen to be right. Now, the aspiration is that everyone has to proactively grapple with the learning challenge. Deputy Principal, Bronwyn Jones, explains how their experience of the DMIC pedagogy has shifted their thinking about effective teaching.

The implications of the DMIC approach for the effective use of mixed ability grouping is explained by the students. If they are confused they can always seek help. If you don’t understand you must ask questions. The students expect to be challenged by their peers so that they are thinking deeply about their reasoning. Mistakes are important because they provide information about where rethinking is required. Such engagement is possible because the students have learned that if you take risks, the other students will provide help.

The teachers are using a range of DMIC strategies to optimise the effectiveness of the pedagogy. The students are grouped carefully. The students have learned that ‘you can depend on’ your classmates. This means they become increasingly confident in taking risks in sharing their thinking.

If the group is not attending to a student, the teacher is observing and knows when to intervene with ‘Did you hear what so and so said about that – why don’t you ask them to explain their thinking?’ This is one of the strategies that raises the status of the student with their peers and strengthens their confidence as they see themselves as a contributing member of the team.

Through this process the ‘us’ and ‘othering’ of unconscious bias is deeply disrupted. DMIC not only raises achievement but also effectively counters racism and bullying. In this video, the children explain how their experiences of learning in this way strengthen their respect for others, and their trust, confidence and belief in themselves as mathematicians and contributing and valued members of the class.

Find out more

Hunter, J., Hunter, R., Anthony, G. (2019). Shifting towards equity: challenging teacher views about student capability in mathematics. Mathematics Education Research Journal. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13394-019-00293-y

Paper File Type & Size

Alton-Lee, A. (2017, September).
PDF Icon'Walking the talk' matters in the use of evidence for transformative education [PDF 751KB]
Invited paper for the International Bureau of Education - UNESCO Project: Rethinking and repositioning curriculum in the
21st century: A global paradigm shift.
Evidence, Data and Knowledge, Ministry of Education, Wellington: New Zealand.

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