To ability group, or not to ability group, in math class?

Discussion in 'Secondary Education' started by ebrillblaiddes, Jul 12, 2007.

  1. ebrillblaiddes

    ebrillblaiddes Companion

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    Jul 12, 2007

    In a few weeks I'll be teaching seventh grade math in a K-8 elementary school that is, as far as I know, untracked, so I'm assuming I'll have completely heterogeneous classes. I did my student teaching in a different K-8 elementary school that also didn't have ability grouping at middle school level because they were too small (only about 30 students in each grade), and at that school, it resulted in everyone getting what amounted to a low-track curriculum because that was the only way everyone could keep up. I know that's not the only way, and there were other things going on at that school, but I do think that because math is prerequisite-intensive it's helpful to teach students in groups of comparable background knowledge.

    I know the theory--groups splitting along lines of discrimination, self-fulfilling prophecies, etc.--but I also know that taking students who are ready for different things and teaching them all the same thing doesn't work either. Having everyone do something completely different would be hard for management and collaboration, so I feel as if I've got to do either whole-class or 3-4 groups.

    I'm somewhat leaning toward grouping, because the alternative didn't work, but the downside is that I don't have experience with ability-based groups so I'm not really sure how to sort kids into groups and pick work for the groups once I've got them. I don't think I should put labels on kids, unless I know what I'm going to do that's beneficial and based on those labels.

    Thoughts?
    :thanks:
     
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  3. Mrs. R.

    Mrs. R. Connoisseur

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    Jul 12, 2007

    I teach seventh grade in a 6-8 junior high. We have levels in math and foreign language. The math has two levels in 6th grade and three in 7th and 8th. The kids in the highest math classes get to skip geometry at the high school.

    I know that the sixth graders take some sort of standardized math test in the spring to place them for seventh grade. The placements generally stay for 8th, too. Every once in a while the math teachers will switch a placement for a variety of reasons.
     
  4. ebrillblaiddes

    ebrillblaiddes Companion

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    Jul 12, 2007

    I know our students can test out of algebra 1, straight into geometry. I haven't heard of them being able to jump further ahead than that, but maybe I wouldn't have yet if it's very rare.

    Also, I'm not sure how comparable these two situations are because I definitely wouldn't have single-level classes, I'd have multiple levels in each single class (so maybe three groups of 6-10 each or something). I'd probably be able to meet with and directly teach each group for 20-25 minutes out of each 90-minute block, so the other two groups would have to be doing something without me hovering over them for close to an hour...sounds like the kind of thing that absolutely requires a "good" class.

    And I'm still not really sure how I would sort them. Maybe I could have a "top" group, because they'd need the most different curriculum because of already meeting so many of the standards, and then two other groups that are doing different topics instead of middle and low groups so that no one has to be in "the dumb group," and reshuffle the groups a little bit every now and then (a top kid who doesn't have a given topic figured out could be plugged into a regular group for that topic, a regular kid who was ready for a more advanced topic and didn't need the time for something else could be plugged into the top group). I could live with that philosophically, but practically I wonder about the actual effect on the average students--whether they'd shine because of not having to compete with the "top" kids, or get dragged down because of the "normal" groups not being as influenced by the "top" kids.
     

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