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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Ability Grouping Issue - An Analogy

The LooneyHiker and Mr. Teacher are having a thought-provoker this week.  LooneyHiker quotes Mr. Teacher below:

“The speaker was obviously against ability grouping. He said that in the past, some people have put the high kids together in one class and the lower kids together in another class. In this situation, the low kids tend to learn a lot and the high kids learn a lot, but the gap between their knowledge grows even wider. Whereas in a mixed-ability group, the high kids will pull the lower kids up, and so the knowledge gap is decreased.”

This made me think about grouping and whether I should group or not. I think there are times grouping is good and sometimes it isn’t appropriate. As a teacher, I need to look at what the objective of my lesson is and how do I plan to achieve it. If grouping is the best way to do that, then that is the way I need to go. I do not believe that one size fits all and just because I group for this lesson, doesn’t mean it should be done for all lessons.

Mr. Teacher's excellent question, that deserves much more attention:

What I'm wondering is, is our goal here really to shrink the knowledge gap, or is our goal to teach every kid as much as possible? And is it really better to have a smaller gap at the end of the year, where the high kids have increased, let's say, 10% and the low kids have increased, let's say, 30%, OR is it better at the end of the year to have high kids that have increased by 50% and low kids that have increased by 50%?

The thing about teachers is that most (nearly all) of them have a big heart, an over-developed sense of "being fair," and wish that everything would be equal.

The reality is, things are not fair, and everyone is not equal.

So the debate and practice of ability grouping continues to be an issue.

I wish to question the thought that the speaker (in bold), and so many others, wish would work. 

"...in mixed groups, the high kids will pull the lower kids up, and so the knowledge gap is decreased."

I disagree; though I wish I didn't have to.

Here is the analogy, on a behavior level.

If you are a parent, you know how important it is for your children to "keep good company."  When your child is hanging around the wrong type of person, you are concerned, and sometimes you will deny them the friendship.

If you are a teacher, in a parent conference, how many times have you said (or wanted to say) "one thing your child needs to do is choose his/her friends more wisely. Their behavior is affecting their grades."

Why is this the case?

Because we know that it is much more likely that the "bad" behavior will influence the "good" behavior, and drag the good behavior child down.  Even though someone may be "salt of the earth - light of the world" people, we know that "bad company corrupts good morals" is more prominent. 

I think, through observation, practice, personal experience, and cognitive psychology that the same is true with mixed grouping.  The lower level has more influence in bringing down the thinking level of the "high" ability kid than the higher level influences the thinking level of the "low" ability kid. 

I won't even mention the resentment the "high level child" has by being put in a situation where they have to teach the "low level child."  Oops...just did.

I hate to say it.  I wish it wasn't true.  But in my years as an under-achieving student, and teacher who looks out for the "underdog," I just can't drink the mixed-ability-grouping Kool-Aid.

Posted via email from rrmurry's posterous


At 1:23 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I absolutely agree with you. It seems that heterogeneous grouping is all about helping the lower end of the spectrum while hurting, or at least limiting the achievement of, the higher end. The teachers may have to make more lesson plans for more groups, but it was easier for me to teach two or even three homogeneous groups than to ensure that those high ability kids got anything out of a lesson taught below their ability.


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