Cluster grouping students

Discussion in 'Elementary Education' started by DrivingPigeon, Nov 13, 2013.

  1. DrivingPigeon

    DrivingPigeon Phenom

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    Nov 13, 2013

    Does anyone else's school use "clustering" to group students? My district started this about 6 years ago. From my understanding, the main purpose of clustering is to help kids who are G/T. However, my district clusters all classes. Here is an example of how our 2nd grade is split up:

    -1 teacher has a mix of G/T kids and average kids
    -1 teacher has the SPED students (who all happen to be low, but not always), average kids, and high-average kids
    -1 teacher has all average and high-average kids
    -2 teachers have a mix of low-average, average, and high-average kids

    I somehow became the teacher of the SPED kids when I started at my new school 3 years ago. I was speaking to the 3rd grade teacher who has had the same cluster of SPED kids for 6 years now, and we're both feeling incredibly frustrated. I love all of my students, I really do, but having a high population of kids that receive SPED services (anywhere from 4-7) really is a lot of added stress. We both feel like we're juggling all of these crazy schedules, meetings, and co-teaching, while our teammates aren't.

    I didn't even think that clustering was supposed to be done this way. We both want to talk to my principal about maybe splitting up the kids in SPED between a few teachers, or having the teachers who take the SPED kids on a rotating schedule, but we don't want it to sound like we're whining.

    How are SPED kids placed at your school? Do the teachers who have this population have smaller class sizes (we don't)?
     
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  3. KinderCowgirl

    KinderCowgirl Phenom

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    Nov 13, 2013

    Yeah, I don't really see the clusters except for the SPED kiddos and the GT kids may all be in one class, but it may be more beneficial to put the high kids in there too instead of the average ones. We really have the kids of all levels spread out pretty evenly. They do not have smaller class sizes, but that would definitely make sense to do.

    I would definitely meet with the P and just raise your concerns. They might not even realize it's not working but be something they do out of habit now.
     
  4. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

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    Nov 13, 2013

    When teachers/schools group kids by ability, their intentions are pure, but the results don't overcome the negatives. Our school intentionally avoids ability grouping, but we are very big on differentiation.

    Here are some research quotes you and print out and put into your principal's box:

    Students of low ability actually perform worse when they are placed in homogeneous groups with students of low ability.
    Classroom Instruction that Works, Marzano, et. al. p.87, ASCD 2001

    Much of the best research suggests that for struggling learners, homogeneous learning experiences go awry. Too often in these settings, teachers’ expectations for the struggling learners decline, materials are simplified, the level of discourse is less than sterling, and the pace slackens. . . In other words, remedial classes keep remedial learners remedial.
    The Differentiated Classroom, Tomlinson, Carol, p.21, ASCD 1999

    Students in lower ability groups spend more time involved in noninstructional activities, are less likely to be asked critical comprehension questions, and are given fewer opportunities to select their own reading material.
    Journal of Educational Psychology, v98 n3 p529-541 Aug 2006


    Drawing on data from the first- and third-grade waves of the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study-Kindergarten Cohort, I use propensity score matching techniques to estimate the impact of low, middle, and high group placement on reading gains relative to nongrouped instruction. Findings suggest that high-grouped students learn more, and low-grouped students learn less, than comparable nongrouped students. These analyses, which significantly lessen the extent to which selection into groups may bias results, add strong evidence to the view that within-classroom skill grouping in the early elementary years promotes unequal reading gains compared to nongrouped instruction.
    Sociological Quarterly; May2008, Vol. 49 Issue 2, p363-394, 32p, 1 Diagram, 4 Charts


    The research reported here suggests that early elementary, within-classroom skill grouping confers advantages upon some (accelerated learning for high-grouped students) and disadvantages upon others (decelerated learning for low-grouped students) compared to full classroom instruction. Moreover, this occurs during a “critical period” for young children as they learn basic literacy skills that are the foundation for future learning. For scholars of educational stratification, as well as parents, educators, and policy makers concerned about inequality, skill grouping within elementary classrooms is a key stratifying element of schooling that should rank high among the factors considered to promote disparities in children's academic skills.
    The Sociological Quarterly
    Volume 49, Issue 2, pages 363–394, Spring 2008


    Grouping by ability, however, frequently has a significant negative effect on the learning of students placed in lower reading groups (Opitz 1999). Children in the lower groups rarely experience the same range of reading opportunities as do students in the higher groups, which may explain why students often don’t progress from lower to higher reading groups (Hiebert 1983)
    A Classroom Teacher's Guide to Struggling Readers
    Curt Dudley-Marling, Patricia Paugh, Heinemann 2004
     
  5. DrivingPigeon

    DrivingPigeon Phenom

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    Nov 13, 2013

    Thanks for the quotes, Tyler!

    The thing that they argue, though, is that students are not entirely grouped by ability. In my classroom, for example, I have low, average, and high-average students. So, it's not like my entire class is low.
     
  6. orangetea

    orangetea Connoisseur

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    Nov 13, 2013

    I hate the idea of tracking starting so young.
     
  7. DrivingPigeon

    DrivingPigeon Phenom

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    Nov 13, 2013

    Agreed.

    I also hate that we're basing pretty much everything on their running record score (an instructional tool), and their MAP test scores (don't even get me started on MAP).
     
  8. bella84

    bella84 Aficionado

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    Nov 13, 2013

    In my school, we cluster students somewhat but not to the extent that it sounds like your school does.

    The sped teachers place the sped students first, before any other students are placed in classes. We choose teachers that we think will be a good "fit" for each individual student. We try not to overload any one teacher and split the kids up into multiple classrooms. We do, however, cluster students into the same room when para support needs to be provided, as we have a limited number of paras. So, not every teacher in any given grade level has sped students, but not all of the sped students are piled onto one teacher either.

    As for the other students not in sped, our school does something similar. They cluster the gifted students into classrooms with teachers who have some sort of gifted training, even though those students are also pulled out by our gifted teacher for the gifted program. We do tend to have classes that are either lower, average, or higher, but it's not a blanket policy. Some grade levels like to split the students up that way and others don't. Our admin doesn't really enforce a particular method of placing students by ability level.
     
  9. Danny'sNanny

    Danny'sNanny Connoisseur

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    Nov 13, 2013

    This year I ended up (and it really was accidentally, and other teachers are annoyed) with a cluster of really high gifted kids. I've just moved down a grade, and I swear they are doing activities that my high second graders used to do this time of year. I am loving that I can do deeper, meaningful activities with them that just wouldn't be as good if it was only one or two kids. SOOOO... in that respect, the G/T teacher and I have been discussing the idea of clustering the G/T kids in the future.

    On the other side, for the last several years I have been LOADED with most of the sped kids. This year I started with 3 identified, and almost have another 4-5 identified already. And two of those are some of the neediest sped kids in the school. In the other two classrooms - one teacher only has kids getting speech, and the other has two low/med kids getting resource help. I don't think admin understands how much this increases my stress and workload. My teammates and I traded classes the other day for some special activities, and they couldn't handle my kids for 30 minutes!

    I'm working up the courage to tell me P that next year they can give me the SPED kids, or the behavior problems, but I can't handle having it all again. Several years of it has seriously worn me out! I'm not asking for all "easy" kids at all, I just need the classes to be more balanced.
     
  10. TeacherGroupie

    TeacherGroupie Moderator

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    Nov 13, 2013

    Hugs, Danny's. Can you document that you've had a disproportionate number of the SPED kids?

    G/T kids are needy in their own way, too.
     
  11. orangetea

    orangetea Connoisseur

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    Nov 13, 2013

    I'm not even sure how I feel about tracking in high school. I don't see it being completely beneficial. Starting in elementary school seems ridiculous and sets up a group of students to fail.
     
  12. Danny'sNanny

    Danny'sNanny Connoisseur

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    Nov 14, 2013

    Oh, my P totally knows that I have most of the SPED kids every year. She's said something along the lines of "some teachers are just naturally better at dealing with those students" when questioned about why a few of us in the school get loaded every year.

    I'm really happy that I accidentally ended up with this G/T cluster though. I think too many teachers just give them busy work, or just let them read in the corner for hours and hours. I'm having them do logic puzzles, work a year ahead in math with big projects, finish spelling lists at their own pace, and so on and so on. It is exhausting trying to keep up with them, but I am not willing to let them rot in the corner! Another teacher actually said it wasn't fair that I had so many high kids because I didn't have to meet with them for reading groups. Ummmm.... NO! Ugh.:dizzy: I have the very lowest student in my grade, and the very highest. My room is an interesting (tiring?) place!
     
  13. iteachbx

    iteachbx Enthusiast

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    Nov 28, 2013

    It depends on what type of special education students. Obviously all of the kids who need inclusion are in my class. I could see how a general education teacher might not want to be in an inclusion class every year, but at my school the inclusion teachers work as a team and each team is very happy to be working together. It is stressful that our students are constantly pulled out for services but we work together all day so scheduling between me and her isn't an issue. We share everything equally.

    But the resource room students are pretty much split up randomly. Our classes loop together each year so for the most part if a bunch of a special ed kids end up in the same class, its a coincidence. There could be a grade where each teacher has 2-3 special ed kids or a grade where one teacher has a whole bunch and the other teachers might not have any. But it varies from year to year so no one really complains. If the number of special ed kids was really high I think they'd split them up. I'm pretty sure there's a limit of the number of special ed kids that can be in one general education class.
     
  14. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Nov 28, 2013

    Tyler, very helpful with the quotes. I would say, though, that "ability grouping" is really a cluster of different strategies that may or may not work. With all of the studies you referred to, Tyler, I didn't see any which actually examined what occurred in ability groups. How would ability groups with low vs high expectations for low groups differ, for example? What about groups where different types of instructional modalities were used?

    In other words, it's a research design flaw - measuring a cluster of interventions neither makes conclusive statements about any one of those interventions, or about the intended dependent variables (in this case, ability grouping).

    Another important factor to consider is whether ability groups occur for specific subjects or lessons (e.g., reading groups), or for entire days, as has been the case with the OP. Research about specific subject ability grouping wouldn't generalize to day-long grouping, and vice versa.

    My experience has been that differentiation needs to occur, however that happens. However, I'd also say that differentiation should only occur for as long as it needs to. In the case of the OP, ability grouping for an entire day may make considerably less sense than for specific subjects.

    Still, I think there is no golden rule. Ability grouping is not always bad, nor is it always good. It should be considered in the specific context of a particular school, grade level, or classroom.
     
  15. JustMe

    JustMe Virtuoso

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    Nov 28, 2013

    I am a big supporter of ability grouping. But it needs to be by subject and it must be fluid. Each quarter rosters should be examined in case changes need to be made (and that is usually the case in either direction).
     

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