Ability leveled classrooms?

Discussion in 'Elementary Education' started by teacherstudent1, Nov 1, 2008.

  1. teacherstudent1

    teacherstudent1 Companion

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    I'm curious as to how many of you work in schools that have classrooms leveled by student achievement/ability?

    Our district tries to have heterogeneous classes, with a mix of gifted, high, average, low, and special ed students in each. While I find this admirable, and useful in some ways, I also have worked in districts that either had leveled classrooms or leveled during reading and math classes, and this also had its advantages.

    So how does it work where you are? And what are your feelings about this often volatile subject?
     
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  3. RainStorm

    RainStorm Aficionado

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    I've worked in both systems -- tracked and heterogenous. I prefer tracked -- whether I teach low, medium, or high. But I also see the need for role models, and kids who are totally grouped with other low learners lack that key ingredient.

    I recently went to a conference on HOW to cluster gifted students. Very few schools actually follow the cluster model correctly. If they do, absolutely NO high achievers are in the same classroom with gifted students. And no super low students are in the same room as gifted students.

    It is gifted 6, high achievers 0, middle 12, low 12, (for a class of 30)
    while all of the other classes are
    gifted 0, high achievers 6, middle 9, low 9, really-low 6 (for a class of 30)

    Obviously, no school fits perfectly into this model. But it is great to not have high achievers and gifted students together --it gives every class some role models, and it gives hardworking high achievers have a chance to shine without being overshadowed by gifted students.

    Very few schools actually follow this model.

    While I prefer tracked (because it is easier to teach) I think in terms of what is best for ALL students, the clustered approach works better.
     
  4. Tasha

    Tasha Phenom

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    My school is heterogenous except that there is one class in each grade with all GT students for that grade and a mix for the other students. Also, the kids identified with speech problems are grouped together so the speech teacher can come in and do classroom activities (not that this makes a difference in learning ability). The school is fairly open to doing it however the grade level decides, but fully going to ability grouping has not worked out for any grade that has tried it.
     
  5. Ms.Jasztal

    Ms.Jasztal Maven

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    Our school basically has tracked classes- well, technically, every class has a transitional and advanced class, with the others in the middle. I have seen many benefits so far this year. The kids are generally doing an amazing job in advanced 4th grade! :woot:
     
  6. Mamacita

    Mamacita Aficionado

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    Educational trends, like all trends, come and go and come again. I much prefer tracked, because it's easier for both teacher AND student. They see the other students in the hallways and cafeteria.

    Tracked, nobody holds anybody else back, and nobody forces anybody ahead. AND, nobody has to see everybody else doing something different while he/she is doing something super-easy or advanced.

    Self esteem has to be earned to be real, and role models deserve their own curriculum, too!
     
  7. giraffe326

    giraffe326 Virtuoso

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    We have mixed classrooms, but I wish they were leveled. There are pros and cons to both, but I think it is better for EVERYONE overall (and by everyone, I mean the teacher, too) for them to be leveled.
     
  8. Iteach782

    Iteach782 Comrade

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    I think there are definite advantages for the high leveled kids especially to be grouped together. The teacher can take them so much further ahead when all the kids are ready to move along at a faster pace.
     
  9. Aliceacc

    Aliceacc Multitudinous

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    Let's talk for a moment about those low level kids.

    Hetrogeneous grouping has got to be incredibly frustrating for them!!! They're always the "dumb" kids, the last kids to catch on to a concept, the ones who don't get stickers or praise. They're NOT the ones the teacher calls on when she's looking for someone who knows the right answer; they only get called on for the "survey says..." type of answers.

    How incredibly refreshing it must be when those kids are finally placed in a class of other kids just like themselves. They see kids who share their lack of ability in the subject matter. And, if the class is properly taught, they see that they CAN learn, that they CAN be "the smart one" in the class from time to time.

    They're taught to the place they're at, not the place that someone else thinks they "should" be. And as a result, they're able to move closer to that ideal "should be" place. They meet academic success (there's that self esteem issue popping up with the low level kids too) because they're able to learn and grow at the pace that best suits them.
     
  10. Canadian Gal

    Canadian Gal Habitué

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    Nov 2, 2008

    I work in schools that are too small to do this. We have 2 FI classes in Grades 6- 8. Everyone is together, period, because we can't do it any other way.
     
  11. teacherstudent1

    teacherstudent1 Companion

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    Middle and high school students are routinely leveled, which is easier to do since they change teachers and classes for most subjects. And it appears to work exceedingly well for the vast majority of students.

    I found the leveled math and reading classes at the elementary level to be the same. It allowed us to focus on the best approaches, levels, and methodology for each group without having to worry about over or under serving another group. It also had the added benefit of allowing students who were not officially "gifted" or "special ed" to still be placed in appropriately structured groups. Too many times the "bright" and "slow learning" students are all lumped in together with minimal supports needed for their needs, not because teachers don't care, but because teachers simply don't have the time and resources to span such a large area of abilities and needs.

    I do like the heterogeneous homerooms, because I do have concerns about children developing feelings of elitism or inability if they spend all of their time in one type of group. Even in secondary schools students will have different mixes in different classes depending on their strengths and weaknesses. Someone who is struggling and is in a lower level math class may excel and be in advanced music, art, and/or sports classes.

    The longer I teach the more I feel that flexibility should be allowed for all students, not just at the secondary level.
     
  12. forchange

    forchange Rookie

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    I really struggle with the question. As a student I probably survived in part because I was in "honors" classes with people who might not have been that much kinder, but at least respected my academic abilities. I always dreaded Health and Gym when I would be with non-honors kids. However, I also had a wise 5th/6th grade teacher who would not skip me a grade when I proposed the idea because he saw that I was socially and emotionally stunted, despite the fact that I could probably out-read a good half of the seniors at the high school down the street. Because he was smart enough to realize that, he had to educate me as a total person, rather than just a brain, I learned more during the two years I had him than I did until I was in college.

    Furthermore, life is like Gym and Health. I have to interact and work with people who really don't care how many words I know or what college I graduated from. Maybe had I been asked to interact with non-honors kids, I would have learned earlier that even people not as "smart" as me still have a lot of skills/ abilities that I can learn from. Also, maybe those kids would have learned that they could learn from me too, rather than just see me as weird kid who actually liked school, wore funny clothes, and used words they didn't know.

    As an adult I have spent my (admittedly short) teaching career teaching in high-poverty, predominantly black/Latino communities and schools. Educational equality is why I'm in education and tracking can do so much to damage educational equity, because kids get grouped together based on what they came to school knowing, or whether they speak standard (ie white, middle class) English, or teachers' perceptions of their families.

    Even in my experience as a kid, I was one of only a few kids from the working class neighborhoods in my town that made it into the honors class. None of the Somalian and few of the southeast Asian kids were put in the honors classes. It was clear to me even then that the teacher recommendations and tests valued things that were had an undercurrent of classism and racism. We are a country that was founded on the idea that everyone should have the chance to achieve their dreams based on their abilities and work ethic, tracking (especially at an early age) seems to me to really call into question how serious we are about this ideal.

    Lastly, I have had kids whose skills placed them at the bottom of my mental list. If I believed in "lost causes," these kids would have been it. However, I have seen what one year of hard work and a competent teacher (and believe me, I am not better than competent) can do for a student. I am talking about 2-3 years of growth in one year. Even in 7th grade, with two years like this, they can go from low to high.

    For me, I don't currently support tracking or ability based placement. However, I can definitely see the arguments in favor, because I lived them.
     
  13. catsos2

    catsos2 Companion

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    Nov 2, 2008

    I am in a small elementary, about 500 students. We are all leveled - above, meets, sub -grade level. Most grades we have 3 classes, some grades we have 2. I like this because everyone is getting what they need and it is easier for teachers to deliver it.

    The "sub"s have smaller class sizes - 16-18 students instead of 25-28. They are also the classes that have the most assistants - paras, volunteers, etc, and usually the more experienced teachers are assigned to these groups. These kids - who sometimes get a rotten deal at heterogeneous schools - are getting the best classes with the most individualized attention. I think this is the best way to do it because they NEED the most help. It's also way easier to manage for the teacher.

    Since we have all of this standardized info at our fingertips (not that it tells us everything, but it can give us an idea of where students stand), I think that all schools should be doing some kind of purposeful student assigning. Our school has had great results and improvements since we started leveling. If not leveling, schools should have some kind of reason for placement in classes - I'm always astounded to hear of a school that does completely random assignments.
     
  14. forchange

    forchange Rookie

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    My school and most of the very successful charter schools that I have heard about and visited have heterogeneous/ random assignments. We also have a track record of success and improvement.

    In your school are the assignments "fixed?" Can a low kid move to a different room, if in January, she has progressed enough to meet the ability of the mid-level class?

    How many of you all use homogeneous groupings in your classrooms in an explicit way? Like the old example of gold, silver, and bronze reading groups? Is this not also damaging to kids self-esteem and, more importantly, doesn't it suggest that we educators believe in fixed intelligence rather than hard work (someone else can hopefully provide the technical word)?
     
  15. catsos2

    catsos2 Companion

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    Yes, we move kids all the time. The students are mobile throughout the year, not just in Jan or after testing. We do assessment all year trying to figure out which kid needs what and what is the best way to give it to them.

    The problem that I see with the old "bronze, silver, gold" method is that sometimes we'd have up to 4 or 5 different levels of readers in one room with random assignments. Gifted 2 grade levels ahead and below level 2 grades behind. While this works (because teachers MAKE it work) in some schools, why not group the students to give the maximum amount of attention to each group of students.

    The kids in our school don't suffer from low esteem because of their grouping either. I think they would suffer more if they knew they were the only person in the class learning phonics when everyone else was reading chapter books.

    I just think that if we have all of this info available to us - from testing or teacher recommendations or wherever - why not use it?? You know which kids in your classes need extra help because the foundation isn't there, and you know the kids that excel because of aptitude or serious work ethic.

    Our school is big at making sure there is a REASON for everything we do. What is the reasoning behind random assignments? If it's just the way it's always been done, then maybe there's a better way that you could consider.
     
  16. forchange

    forchange Rookie

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    Just because a school uses heterogeneous grouping does not mean that they don't use the data. There are a lot of ways to differentiate and serve all students in a heterogeneous classroom.

    My school also has a reason for everything we do too. I spoke to some of the reasons behind heterogeneous grouping in previous posts. It was a very intentional choice and one that is revisited a lot. Many teachers at my school offer a honors option (harder tests, more projects, extra expectations of some kind) within their class. This does not require splitting up kids.

    I think that with all we know about kid's multiple intelligences and individual needs, it's a bit hard to group them fairly homogenously. I would say this is especially true in elementary school where they don't switch for different subjects. What do you do with a student who is two years behind in math, but on level with reading and writing?

    As I said previously, I think there are valid arguments on both sides of this argument. I just didn't see some of the most valid arguments being presented for heterogeneous grouping. In your school do you find that kids of higher socio-economic families are more often advanced? Do you find that students of color are more often low? What is the breakdown between boys and girls?
     
  17. catsos2

    catsos2 Companion

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    I'm sorry, I thought you were saying that you used random grouping. I totally understand intentional grouping of all sorts. I haven't seen any solid evidence that would point to one way over another, so who is to say what is best? I just don't understand not using data at all.

    To answer your questions -
    There are a lot of students who will go to a different classroom for reading or math. Even though we're elementary, all of the grades have similar schedules.
    Also, we are 97% free lunch and nearly all minority. So obviously, that is reflected in the grouping - the range of achievement varies greatly even though our kids are very poor and mostly African-American or Hispanic.
    For the most part, the girls and boys are pretty balanced in each classroom. Except in 5th grade where we have very few boys in the whole grade - mostly girls, but that is an enrollment issue.
     
  18. Lindsnh

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    We were promised tracked this year but it didnt happen. We have way too many transfers (on a weekly basis) i guess to do tracked. When I student taught the school I was at had hetro and I loved it. I was with the middle kids. The low kids had a teacher and a full time assistant. They also got to go to the reading lab twice a day. It was really nice.
     
  19. NJArt

    NJArt Comrade

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    My school is completley heterogenous... but I WISH they had advanced classes for math and reading. When I was in elementary school we switched teachers just for math and reading, and it was sooooooo much better. I was in the advanced classes and know I would have been bored to tears if I was being held back by the rest of the kids. I see in my school that the lessons are taught to the slower learners which means that the advanced and several average kids aren't being challenged. You know there's a problem when a MAJORITY of the class gets High Honor Roll every semester. When I was in school, despite being an advanced learner, I only got straight A's once, and would get a sprinkling of of C's throughout the year. C's are almost unheard of in my school except for the students that struggle, adn that's not right. Then they go up to the HS and it's total culture shock!!
     
  20. WaterfallLady

    WaterfallLady Enthusiast

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    Our school does it strangely. We are a special ed school. Most kids have mild to moderate disabilities. The students are ability grouped for math and reading. We don't technically have grades, but we know what grades kids should be in. For example, there are reading groups with 2nd and 6th graders and my reading group has 7th graders and 11th graders. For other classes, like science and social studies, they stay with their homerooom, which is usually a 3 grade range. If they are really "high" they might be in the age group above their age and vice versa for really low students. For example, we have four sixth graders. Two are considered secondary students and two are considered elementary students.
     
  21. teacherstudent1

    teacherstudent1 Companion

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    Although I prefer a mixed approach, my district has embraced heterogeneous grouping. My particular campus has the teachers rank the kids into one of 5 levels: high, high-average, average, low-average, low. Then they divide them for the next year by putting high, average, and low-average together, and high-average, average, and low together.

    They also try to have multiple teachers in each grade level cetified in ESL and GT so that those students can also be spread among several classes.

    In addition, the district is very big into co-taught classes for special education, placing 4-6 of these students into several classes. Resource students are placed in a different class, and life skills students receive inclusion time in still another class. :dizzy:

    It gets a bit complicated, but basically they are trying to form heterogeneous classes, sometimes with support, while trying to somewhat limit the range of student abilities in each group.

    The success of this varies greatly from class to class and school to school, but overall the students appear to do well, at least when looking at standardized tests, (which, as we all know, is the ultimate demonstration of whether kids are learning).
     

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