How do you choose to group students?

Discussion in 'Elementary Education' started by mrsammieb, Nov 4, 2017.

  1. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

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    Nov 12, 2017

    This is a years-long debate that has continued throughout multiple threads here on a2z, with this question being central to unpacking the debate a bit more than the "hot topic" of ability grouping generally.

    As a starting point, these terms are not up for personal definition, but are well-defined in educational research. However, they are often colloquially used differently. Ability generally refers to innate ability such as IQ, while skills are particular behaviors that can be learned & performed. Working memory is an example of an ability, while recalling 5 digits backwards is an example of a skill. The skill of recalling digits in reverse is sometimes used as a supposed method of indirectly measuring a child's working memory, but they are distinct.

    From a practical perspective, I've not ever, in my own practice, seen teachers or schools group children within the same classroom by IQ score or some other innate ability such as working memory. We all, of course, have seen teachers group students based on skill - reading fluency being a common example. There are multiple challenges with the "ability/skill group" discussion that happens here, one being that these two things are confused. When we make this clear, it very much narrows the conversation, with most people (and the research available) supporting skill groups. It seems that Tyler, a focal advocate in this debate, is also siding with skill groups here.

    Another challenge with this conversation is that there are different dimensions of the topic which can be hard to weigh against each other or reconcile. For example, Tyler has a point that kids can often tell if they're in the "high or low" group, and that it can weigh on the child's self-assessment. However, how do we balance that against the terribly important element of differentiation when it comes to basic skills instruction?

    To simplify our past discussions of the research, every article which has been brought to our attention highlighting the drawbacks of skill groups have one thing in common: Teachers use skill groups the wrong way. For example, a teacher might not adjust groupings frequently enough, leaving swiftly advancing kids in low groups for too long. Or, the teacher might have lower expectations in terms of rate of progress for kids in the lower group. I have yet to see an article which demonstrates that the isolated variable of skill groups produces harm. By contrast, I have read hundreds of studies that include the use of skills groups which show academic benefit.

    I'm not arguing that skill groups don't have drawbacks. For example, like others I completely understanding that being assigned to the lower group can contribute to lower academic self-esteem. However, kids who are behind generally know they are behind, with or without skill group assignments. We wouldn't refuse to administer chemo to a child out of fear that she might be embarrassed to lose her hair, or refuse glasses to a child who can't see the board because he might be called names - why would we deny children the opportunity to experience the most potent educational interventions for the same reasons? And....when would this stop? Do we dismantle special education, classroom aides, wheelchairs, speech therapy? It's terrible that sometimes a child's individual needs cause him/her to be singled out and stigmatized. However, we should work to mitigate these issues and encourage a classroom climate of compassion and sensitivity - not dismantle our support structure for those kids out of fear that kids might feel "different." They already do, so we might as well do what works and give them a better chance of being "less different" in the future.
     
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  2. Obadiah

    Obadiah Groupie

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    Nov 13, 2017

    Your post brings forth excellent points worthy of consideration. I especially agree that skill grouping should be administered cautiously, flexibly, and compassionately. I might add a third element, apart from observing a child's ability or skills; children also learn differently. Years ago, one of my pastors who is also a counseling psychologist, shared how he was misdiagnosed in elementary school as being below 70 in IQ. At that time, a diagnosis of ADHD was not understood. Also, sometimes it's just one particular aspect of assignments or one singular skill that effects the entirety of the subject resulting in a lower group placement, (which indicates the importance of frequent group adjustment). Concerning this, I feel many times it's not the student but the push of the curricula that hinders skill achievement. Please note that I used the plural, "curricula", because although one curriculum might be paced adequately, other curricula might be begging for time away from that particular curriculum, forcing the teacher to, frankly, skimp on time in the well paced subject. Some students, just as capable as others, need more trial and error to achieve the outcome; of course, this also is a good argument for grouping, to give those students more time: personally, in this instance, I would prefer either flexible grouping, heterogeneous cooperative learning grouping, or even 1-2 day grouping (some students don't need extra time or help for every skill).
     
  3. EdEd

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    Nov 13, 2017

    Thanks Obadiah - I think the key point here is flexibility and ensuring that the instructional structures we're using match our instructional goals & intents. In other words, are we doing something simply because of a belief or value in something, because we're on "autopilot" and it's "what we've always done," or because we're actually purposefully & actively choosing that structure. All of the ideas you've presented here I think are certainly possibilities to think about as a teacher plans his/her skill groups or whatever instructional arrangements s/he chooses.
     
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