Leveled classes OR mixed abilities?

Discussion in 'General Education' started by nstructor, May 23, 2019.

  1. nstructor

    nstructor Cohort

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    For grade 6, which do you think is better-to have a low, medium, and high class, or have all mixed abilities?
     
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  3. Always__Learning

    Always__Learning Comrade

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    Grade 6 is way too early to level classes.
     
  4. otterpop

    otterpop Aficionado

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    Mixed ability, generally. If there's a large number of students who could do an accelerated curriculum it might be good to offer one more advanced section, but only if the remaining classes could still be well mixed.
     
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  5. Ima Teacher

    Ima Teacher Maven

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    I’m a fan of mixed ability until high school. I’ve taught mixed and leveled classes. Mixed is way easier. Leveled classes (no matter what level) have been my biggest management challenges. The low classes never get to see any high-quality work, and the high classes can feel like they are somehow superior. I don’t, however, want a mix like I had a few times . . . half GT and half SED. That was too far apart.
     
  6. FourSquare

    FourSquare Fanatic

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    Mixed ability always.
     
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  7. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    I am a huge proponent of ability grouping and prefer that over mixed grouping.
     
  8. otterpop

    otterpop Aficionado

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    Have you taught both high groups and low groups?
     
  9. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    Yes, but no lower than middle school. I have found that ability grouping is extremely effective when done right; that is, once a student demonstrates mastery they can move up to the more advanced classes.
     
  10. Backroads

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    But you're describing a mastery system, not ability grouping.
     
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  11. Always__Learning

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    Levelling in Grade 6 would be a huge equity issue.
     
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  12. Backroads

    Backroads Aficionado

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    I agree grade six is too young. Not until high school is there a solidly clear understanding of a student's general learning/performance ability.
     
  13. nstructor

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    Could you explain why you feel this way and give an example of how it has benefited your students? Thank you!
     
  14. Teacher234

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    I would absolutely go with mixed ability. While the planning and no need for differentiation makes a teachers job a little easier, mixed ability classes are a lot more exciting and fun to teach (in my opinion). Consider the following.....
    Even though an "advanced" group is perceived to be advanced, there will still be some students who need additional assistance with the content and work habits. The "Advanced" group is certainly the laziest group, in most cases. For the "advanced" group, the teacher would expect the students to do advanced work and that is it. Here is a problem, the advanced assignments are too difficult for some students. Differentiation allows for all students to learn their way. For students who are struggling, provide those students with small-group instruction and reinforcement worksheets. For students who are deemed advanced, provide them with a challenge/Enrichment task.
    Having a particular group in a particular class will not necessarily help those students because of the, essentially, "One Way" teaching. With "One Way" teaching, it does not necessarily allow higher level students to develop a full understanding or allow lower level students to expand their understanding. Even in my class where my students are lower level (I plan modified instruction), I have students that require an more challenging task. For example, I have a fourth grader learning on a third grade guided reading level (all of my 4th graders are in this boat). However, this fourth grader may need to read at a fourth grade GR level (setting this up in the grade book will be a nightmare.)
    When in doubt, differentiation is better and more efficient. It benefits all of the students more often than not.
     
  15. CherryOak

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    I currently have an range from E to Z++ and how to subtract to coefficients in my fifth grade room with 27 students. So..... I would never say it in person, but, yea, this is freaking hard. I secretly fantasize about tracking....... with guilt. I know I shouldn't and why, but I do.
     
  16. 2ndTimeAround

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    I hate the term leveling and prefer ability grouping. I am a big proponent of ability grouping and wish it was done exclusively at my school. With mixing the lower students get almost all of the attention. Either due to ability or behavior.
     
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  17. TrademarkTer

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    I thought you taught high school.
     
  18. TrademarkTer

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    I say hold off on the rat race of ability grouping until high school.
     
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  19. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    I think mixed grouping is more appropriate for elementary (in most cases) and ability grouping is more appropriate for middle and high school.

    All through my upbringing, I was placed by ability, as were my peers, and the vast majority of us thrived because of it. For example, when we started elementary we all took standardized state tests and IQ tests to determine placement. As a result of my testing, I was put into the 5th-grade reading class in the 2nd grade and the sixth-grade reading class (but with different teachers and newer curricula) for 3rd-5th grades as that was the highest I could go. I was placed in 5th-grade math in the 2nd grade and took several grade levels higher every year thereafter. To demonstrate, I took Advanced Pre-algebra in 5th, Algebra 1 Honors in 6th, Honors Geometry in 7th, Algebra 2 Honors and Advanced Algebra and Trigonometry in 8th, Precalculus Honors and AP Stats in 9th, AP Calculus AB in 10th, AP Calculus BC in 11th, and Linear Algebra and Differential Equations at the local community college in 12th via my high school’s dual enrollment program. For every math test I’ve ever taken (state administered or otherwise), I’ve scored in the 99th percentile for math, so why should I have been put in a class more “age-appropriate” to “learn” material I already knew and found incredibly easy and mundane? That’s where most of my counselors said I should be placed and luckily my principals and parents put their foot down.

    It’s not always about the lower performers. All learners need to be considered and put into environments where all of their learning can be maximized.

    In my case, I always was placed in older age groups and it never bothered me. Neither did it for my more advanced peers, too. We absolutely hated being placed with other kids our age because we felt like we were learning our ABC’s for an hour each block and we often had to carry and tutor the lower and medium performers. It wasn’t fair to us and we were not being challenged, which is why we asked to be and were subsequently placed into much higher grade levels.
     
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  20. Backroads

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    I do agree ability grouping is ideal for high school as that is arguably an advanced level of education where students, to oversimplify things, are learning at their own will, rather than being taught how to learn. Many systems have a track in place at this time.

    But elementary, and 6th grade, things aren't so cut and dry.

    I'd add that ideally in lower grades even with mixed ability, differentiation is still preferred so kids aren't carrying/being carried.
     
  21. otterpop

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    You are very lucky that this was an option for you. I think this is far more effective than leveling in a single grade - say, having 3 third grade classes, and making a separate class of all the high kids, all the medium kids, and all the low kids. I was also a "high" kid and would have really liked having the opportunity to do what you did. Instead, I had teachers who gave me workbooks one or two grade levels ahead and occasionally taught groups of lower level kids in elementary school. It was fine, but I always appreciated teachers who went out of their way to challenge my abilities.

    The main reason I'm against leveling in a single grade is that I think it's a huge disservice to the low kids to put them all together. It makes for a really difficult class behaviorally and academically for the teacher assigned to that group as well. If a whole school is committed to letting students move up or down groups as needed, I think that would be a great model. In fact, it would be my preferred model.
     
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  22. Backroads

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    Such schools exist, but my understanding is it takes a lot of oversight. Very nice, but probably difficult to switch to.
     
  23. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    Right! Exactly this. I really liked the model my elementary and middle schools employed and it is the model that my private school utilizes. We don’t believe in holding students to their age group just because. We strategically place students in accordance with their intellects.
     
  24. futuremathsprof

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    My high school did this too, thankfully, but only after I made a big stink about it. For example, they usually prohibit freshman from taking AP classes and limit the number of AP classes a sophomore can take to 2, but my parents and I, alongside my previous admin, protested and they started a program for students who were like me. Thus, I was able to take 21 honors and AP classes by the time I graduated from high school (I took AP Stats and AP Psych in the 9th grade; AP Calc AB, AP Bio, AP World History, and AP Physics B in 10th; AP Calc BC, AP Chemistry, AP Physics C, AP English Language, AP US History, and AP Spanish Language in 11th, and AP Spanish Literature, AP English Literature, AP Computer Science A, AP Government and Politics, and AP Microeconomics/Macroeconomics in 12th).

    In short, I would not have been able to take all of what I took had I listened to my counselors and naysayers who said I and my peers weren’t socio-developmentally ready, which was complete nonsense.
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2019
  25. czacza

    czacza Multitudinous

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    Have you taught early middle school grades?
     
  26. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    Mostly 8th graders with the sporadic 7th grader. Why?
     
  27. Mr.history

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    I teach gifted 8th grade classes. In my classes all students have been identified as gifted. We do have other teachers who teach mixed classes where the students are either "on level" or have IEPs.

    Personally I see why people are hesitant to put the smartest kids in another room but there is an upside. I give these students assignments that kids in the other classes in my school simply couldn't do. I put questions on their tests that the other kids wouldn't understand. It gives these students the opportunity to keep moving forward without having to consider the lack of ability that other kids may have.

    I have taught high school and now middle school. I'm not sure why so many think middle school is too young for grouping by ability. There is a huge difference between a 7th or 8th grader with an 11th grade reading level and one who is struggling at an elementary level.
     
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  28. futuremathsprof

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    Right on! [​IMG]
     
    Last edited: May 26, 2019
  29. FourSquare

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    You may have been plenty academically ready, but I'd be curious about your socialization skills. With all due respect, your posts paint you as a braggart. I frequently wince when you go on and on about your achievements, salary, etc. Perhaps a little more time with your age-appropriate peers wouldn't have hurt you in the long run! I teach plenty of academically accelerated students with social concerns. Many are very self-centered and lack empathy for others. Having them work with kids who come with different perspectives and backgrounds is greatly beneficial to their development as well-rounded human beings. The differentiation is certainly challenging, but it's worth it.
     
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  30. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    I’ll ignore your ad-hominem attacks to address something that I’ve noticed, too: The touting of poor children and underachievers as if they’re the only students who matter. Yeah, let’s hold back the accelerated kids so they “learn” to talk with average kids their age. What a grand idea. I’m sure Isaac Newton and other great thinkers would’ve done well under such a minimalist system. :confused:
     
  31. FourSquare

    FourSquare Fanatic

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    I don't love the implication that poor children can't achieve, but I will try to prove my point, anyway. You and I are in agreement for different reasons. I do care greatly about academically accelerated students. I'm simply saying that social development matters equally if not more than grades/test scores/credits/etc. How do you lead when someone is not on your level? How do you collaborate when others think differently than you? Or my favorite...how do you handle NOT being the boss? This is where I see my "honors" kids melt into a puddle every day. Maybe they read fewer Shakespeare texts with me than they would have in a gifted course, but I like to think they learned some empathy along the way. That's got to mean something, doesn't it? Mixed ability grouping helps everyone in different ways.
     
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  32. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    You seem to imply that homogeneous grouping does not teach empathy, or teamwork, or collaboration to work with people who are different? Well, I guarantee you that my students learn and know all of those things and I did, as well. My students argue and debate and don’t always get along, but they are polite and courteous and respectful of other people’s beliefs. They encourage each other and help each other when they see their group members struggle. They work in teams. So, this idea that empathy and collaboration and homogeneous grouping are mutually exclusive is so ridiculous that it doesn't even make sense to think that it would make sense.

    I’ve witnessed many mixed groupings and it’s almost always the high-achiever carrying the lower achiever through the lesson and being absolutely bored out of their wits because the low achiever doesn’t get a simple concept for half or the entire period. That was almost always the case for me growing up when I was placed in the normative class. I would have to sit quietly through “Dora the Explorer” type lessons and watch my teacher drone on and on to the other students and they STILL wouldn’t get it. I just couldn’t take it anymore and that’s when I took action to better my situation.

    Now that I’m in an administrative position to do something about it, I’m taking action again like I did all those years ago. I know how it feels to go through that for years and years and I am not going to force the high achievers to go through that anymore. Not on my watch.
     
  33. FourSquare

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    I don’t think that, I just think it’s harder to do when the population is so similar. Tracking lends itself to driven and often privileged kids clustering together on a certain trajectory. I completely understand the academic benefit, I’m just suggesting there is a social benefit to not being with high achievers exclusively all the time. I highly suggest looking at the documentary series “America To Me” if you are out of school soon and interested in this topic. It tracks this debate in a high school across one year, interviewing all sorts of students and teachers.
     
  34. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    I read reviews on it and, of course, you went back to the age-old, commonly purported, overused racism argument. I expected better from you.

    Good day.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2019
  35. a2z

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    I know what you are saying about social skills, but often the intellectually gifted with poor social skills or lacking group skills because of frustrations with others need a lot of work to be directly taught how to be socially acceptable and how to consider the other's point of view. Just being mixed in will often not make this happen even if you would like to think it does. Most often it causes more resentment because the high performers usually have the choices of:
    a) be bored to tears with their work
    b) pull the academic cart (with the consequences depending on the group they are with)
    c) accept a lower grade in order to not cause friction

    None of these are positive for the high performer. Not only that it creates situations which continue to ingrain the idea they are intellectually superior.

    I'm all for mixed groups if the proper social education is being provided rather than expected.
     
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  36. a2z

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    So? Driven kids often do better. Why should driven kids have to suffer because those who are not slow the class down significantly? No matter how much we talk about differentiation, it really is a myth that kids can be taught to their needs in a group where the levels are so skewed and the curriculum taught is at grade level but the teaching is often well below grade level in order to allow those needing the most help to keep up.
     
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  37. FourSquare

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    I don’t think it has to be, though. I can only speak for my own room, but I think our Tier 1 instruction is plenty rigorous. We are only ever together as a class briefly, and the “meat and potatoes” of the instruction comes in those small groups. Here, I do level a bit. I like to mix the highest with a few medium kids who can handle it. Planning isn’t too bad because the groups never get an entirely different objective, just a different text, entry point, task, etc. Other times I keep even the small groups mixed to allow for some cross-discussion. Whether high or low, there will always be kids who don’t participate in the whole group stuff. Lastly, I leave plenty of choice in my independent work. My highest kids gave so much positive feedback around getting to design their own projects and study path. Again, it’s always related. For example, when we did narrative writing, I obviously had some that could go far beyond the 2-3 page expectation, so I had them work through the HS curriculum for National Novel Writing Month. They loved building across chapters instead of scenes.

    I think the troubling idea for me is segregating groups of kids ALL the time in separate classes. I just see too many negative social outcomes from this practice that aren’t worth the academic benefits, in my opinion. (Especially when we CAN push the academic piece through differentiation.)
     
  38. FourSquare

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    It’s about much more than racism, but that is a piece of it. Do you not see tracking as a means of supporting systems of white supremacy? Because that’s how this would turn out at my school. Our campus is genuinely diverse racially and economically. Tracking would look like a ton of wealthy white students sitting in an accelerated class with our black and brown students sitting in regular and remedial classes. Those wealthy white students would continue analyzing texts by old dead white people to prepare for biased standardized tests that are culturally relevant to them, supported by tutors, camps, trips, and other resources that only their families have access to. Maybe this is genuinely fine for you. I respect your opinion, but I can’t agree.

    Beyond higher level work in small groups, I’ve been able to challenge these students with different pedagogical approaches that maybe they are not used to. We’ve also tackled topics like intersectionality as a whole class with varying perspectives. We can talk abstractly about the experience of being transgender, disabled, or a person of color. That discussion looks very different if you’re safely in a room where everyone is exactly like you versus sitting with peers who actually live that life. I can’t simulate that with a homogenous group!
     
  39. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    Conversation over. If you want to have a spirited debate and discuss real issues, then I’m willing to talk and even have you change my mind, but if your default stance is to fall back to racism and sexism or whatever whenever we discuss a practice that you dislike, then I’m not speaking with you.

    And in case you forgot, I’m as multicultural as it gets. Let that one sink in and I PROMOTE tracking by ability and am instituting it school wide at my private school.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2019
  40. futuremathsprof

    futuremathsprof Phenom

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    [​IMG]
     
  41. Mr.history

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    All schools are different but I don't think putting gifted kids in classes together makes them disregard their other peers. In fact in the 6 years that I've been teaching gifted kids they are usually the most empathetic because they are more self aware. At my school its the gifted kids who are in Jr. Beta, Rotary, and other clubs doing volunteer hours or volunteering to work with the special education students in the MOID classes. Unless the school is actively telling kids they are better because they are smarter I don't think entitlement is something schools can take credit for. Most likely that comes from home.

    I don't think there is a single teacher in a classroom that doesn't want the best for all their kids. I don't think putting the gifted/talented kids in a classroom in high school or middle school with students who can barely read is doing either group a favor. Would you want to be that smart kid who has to move at what seems like a snails pace? How is that fair to them. At the same time would you want to be the struggling student who has to ask questions that seem basic to the other students and may embarrass you? I think education should be equitable but it doesn't mean that it has to be the same for everyone. I personally think its best to group students by ability and allow each group to get what they need.
     
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