Sunday, December 14, 2014

Let's get rid of ability grouping

Came across this great post today by Susan Fitzell about the evidence against homogeneous grouping in schools, and it further convinced me that we need to get rid of levelling in schools.

(Among high school-level teachers, this kind of thing is liable to get me burned at the stake, but here it goes.)

I once made the argument that offering various levels of the same subject (general, college prep, and "honors") was a form of differentiation. I can still understand this argument to some degree: It's sort of like differentiating according to readiness and motivation, but with one BIG difference: The kids are not together.

The students with lower levels of readiness and motivation are grouped with kids with lower levels of readiness and motivation. The students with more are grouped with the students with more. While this may make it easier for teachers, for students, it's more like:
"For whoever has, to him more shall be given... but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him."

Could students struggling with motivation benefit from being around students with high motivation? Could students with low readiness benefit from being around students with higher readiness? Could students with poor social skills benefit from being around those with great social skills?

Seems obvious, and there is research to back up this heretical idea of delevelling.

And philosophically, I think we need to ask ourselves what we are all about. Are we here primarily to make sure the "best and brightest" are well served, or are we here for all students?

Not that the most advanced students are not well served by heterogeneous grouping. According to Marzano, any effect of heterogeneous grouping on advanced students is tiny. And that's assuming differentiation is being done well.

The needs of the many shouldn't be sacrificed for the needs of the few, and the needs of the few needn't be sacrificed either.

I may be a dreamer, but I think it can be done, and well, with every student appropriately challenged, together.

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