How do we group students? I think about this as I look across my classes. Depending on what I teach and the year, I get students grouped in different ways. But how should they be grouped? By similar ability levels, or should it be random? Should classes be in like-age groups?
This debate has been going on for years. Some say that homogeneous grouping, which keeps students with similar abilities together, is the best. Students are at the same level, making it easy to plan targeted lessons. Others say that heterogeneous grouping–mixing it up, helps everyone. Students of all ability levels can benefit from each other. Opponents feel that grouping this way makes a teacher teach to the middle or the “bottom third” and neglects those at the top.
Should students be grouped with like-ability students or separated to better allow teachers to pace? Furthermore, should students be able to progress through grades regardless of age level and graduate when they are ready, or do students need the seat time? Does staying in school the prescribed number of years help them to be socially ready for the real world?
I joke about the issue of “genius” in my personal blog, mostly because I don’t believe that tests and assessments are an accurate predictor of student potential or achievement. I believe that every student has their “thing,” their particular area of expertise. After years of being tracked and labeled, many students lose their confidence. Being in the gifted group in school, I got to do pretty cool things–I had access to theatre and what would today be “maker space.” I see now, as I look into the eyes of each of my students, I didn’t deserve the label or the special treatment over any other student. Each of them is gifted in their own areas of passion.
I know it’s easier to teach students when they’re in their groups and boxes, but is it best for students as a whole? I don’t think so. This, I am convinced, deprives students of the real-world experience, as they will have to work with many different people in life. It also cuts out students with special needs, who bring a lot to the table themselves. Students help each other and lift each other up. I see real friendships form.
When my younger sister was in high school, there was a Down’s Syndrome boy on the track team. He went to classes, birthday parties, and functions with everyone. The Interscholastic League rules say that no student who is 21 can participate in high school athletics. This makes sense in theory, but not in this case. The League came down on the boy. The students rallied. The students won, and the boy stayed on the team. He wasn’t going to be challenging for state title. He just wanted to be included. But the truth is, the students who supported him received the benefit of his presence more than he did theirs.
That’s what keeping kids together does in reality.
This is something that people don’t like to discuss, because it doesn’t seem egalitarian, but there are students at the top just as there are students at the bottom. Are schools giving the gifted the short end of the stick?
What is “gifted?” Here are some resources and websites to engage students who may seem to be bored with the average curriculum.
I made this board because I struggle with the issue of tracking. I’ll come right out and say it. I teach in a school with a college prep track and regular track. In my experience, many of the classes I’ve taught in the “bottom” track outperform the top students. This is because top students sometimes get in the comfort zone and get lazy, while other students want to feel like academic rock stars and rise to the occasion. When students are tracked long-term, they develop an identity about who they are and what they can achieve. Then, I have to convince them out of it.
Many schools have students of different ability levels in the same classes. Differentiation is often used as a special education term, but it’s really just a strategy that covers all students. Everyone learns differently. “Differentiation” makes us think best about how to teach.
This group needs to be engaged in something meaningful–we all do. Many students have far greater abilities than their performance indicates. This board helps you tap into some of those abilities and create intrinsic motivation for students who can do far more.
I teach students on the autism spectrum in my everyday classes. Learn about autism whether you have these students or not. So many of them have limitless talent if you know how to tap into “their things.” I just added a link to the blog of a good friend, John Saddington. John is an amazing success. I’ll have a separate feature about John, but for now, notice his example.
Inclusion pairs a special educator with a content area teacher. They teach classes that are completely mixed with all types of students. Done well, it’s a partnership where special needs students are indistinguishable from other students. The thing about inclusion is this–often, we view it as helping special needs students receive students, but I’ve seen this flip on its head–the other students receive great benefit because they receive extra help, too.