Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Mamacita raised a few eyebrows with this post a few weeks back, a rant about the poorly behaved students in schools. From The Trenches followed up with this mostly supportive post, which also examined some criticism from another blogger.

I'm not really going to discuss the posts (you should go read them), except to use the original as a springboard for something I keep saying over and over, and which I believe to be true: we could solve 60-80% of these disciplinary problems if we put students in classes where they were able to perform at their ability level, and excel from that level upward - something which might also help solve the engagement problem.

I recognize these students Mamacita is talking about - but for the most part I recognize them as the students in my class who are either above or below the "middle ground" I am expected to teach to. The ones below the middle ground become listless and frustrated with material that is over their heads, and a teacher who is too busy juggling ability levels to give them the concrete instruction they need. The students above the middle ground grow bored and resentful as they see themselves being held back by both the middle ground and those below it.

I went to a professional development meeting this morning in which we were given concrete strategies to use in what are now being called "stacked classes." Differentiated classrooms with ability levels so diverse they require teachers to teach two (or more) different curriculums in the same class period. The basic premise is that we begin with the same literature or subject matter, and with a unified activity (such as a journal). We then split the classroom up and teach one thing to one group, and another to another group, all the while finely splitting the hairs of a timer so that instruction for both is timed down to the minute. (And what if one group runs over? I hear you asking. Why, we do what we've always done...tell the other group to find something to do, or whip out some busy work for them. Alternatively, stop the slower group and have them complete the assignment for homework.)

The teacher then bounces back and forth between groups, but we have the same problem as ever - the implication is that we can trust ONE of those groups will be self-sustaining and self-motivated while the teacher works with the other group. So while we're making more work for the teachers, we've backslid into the exact same position as before - those kids who know how to learn on their own will, at least to the extent of the lowest-common-denominator of expectations the teacher is able to set, and the kids who can't learn on their own will be given activities which don't actually increase their ability level, but rather maintain them at their level while making it appear we're giving them more personalized time.

It just seems so odd to me that though we are now able to admit students have wildly varying needs in the classroom, we cannot bring ourselves to assign students to classes according to their ability, where a teacher would teach one specifically targeted lesson that might have the potential to bring students up to the level of their peers, instead of simply maintaining their status quo.

I guess that will have to wait for when I have my own school. :)


Tex said...

Reading your description makes me sad because I have two children that have been negatively impacted by stacked classes.

One is a fast learner whose 5th grade teacher used to give him algebra books to review while he was working with the other students. My other child has processing and attention issues. She misses a lot of what is going on during many teacher presentations, and then requires reteaching in a smaller group. I was just in a meeting with this teacher today and I sensed her frustration with the situation. She has an aid for 45 minutes a day to help, and another thing she does is set up class “buddies” for kids like my daughter. Aargh!!!

To me, this is crazy

Redkudu said...

And how many other students do you think have that same processing and attention difficulty? Probably quite a few, even if I judge by my high school classrooms.

It must be so frustrating for you to watch your daughter go through that. It sounds like the teacher is at least trying some solutions, but she must be very frustrated as well. A sad situation all around.

Catherine Johnson said...

She has an aid for 45 minutes a day to help, and another thing she does is set up class “buddies” for kids like my daughter. Aargh!!!

I'm just really at my wit's end with the entire K-12 system.

It doesn't matter what kind of kid you have (and many of us have more than one kind), the schools aren't structured around one question and one question only: WHAT IS THE BEST WAY TO TEACH 'X' KIND OF KID.

Instead we stell teachers to do their best with a bad situation.

I think differentiation is cr**.

I really do.

My district is now 100% differentiation and what does it mean?

It means no accelerated math at all, ever, in K-5 (middle school principal is trying to close it down at the middle school, too, though he has constraints on his actions there, because of Regents, etc.)

At the middle school, where we desperately need some differentiation, there isn't any.

Everyone reads the same books, regardless of his level.

Chris, last year, was reading 5th and 6th grade level books HE'D ALREADY READ BEFORE, FOR PLEASURE.

(The Outsiders)

Catherine Johnson said...

At the same time, he's getting killed in math.