Friday, January 13, 2012

Tracking vs. Self-Esteem—Where's the Line?

I don't know about all of you, but when I was in elementary school, they split us up and shuffled us around to different rooms during certain times of day. Math, for instance. Sometimes for reading.

It's not hard to figure out who's who. 'Smart' kids, average kids, and strugglers. And that can be a lousy feeling.

I can see a lot of good cases for heterogeneous grouping. With the right curriculum and solid teaching practices, the strugglers can make up ground, the 'smart' kids can be challenged, and everyone can learn.

On the other hand, there are situations where it just doesn't make sense.

My current school has a full range of students ... and I mean full. Everything from kids above grade level to kids with severe disabilities, and everything imaginable in-between. We don't have them all in the same classes.

We do, however, have workshops.

It's an ongoing frustration. The entire high school gathers for workshops every other week on a variety of topics. Here's what happens:

Half the students can't believe they have to listen to things they've known since they were eight years old.

The other half are lost.

End result: No one likes workshops.

We've talked about splitting them up into smaller groups (size-wise, that'd be better anyway) so their specific needs can be addressed more. Same topic but different levels. For some, the very basics. For others, more of a discussion, letting them talk about what they know and what issues are important to them.

Sounds good, but we haven't done it. There are logistical reasons, but there's also the fact that the kids will know they've been somehow labeled. "Ha, I'm with the smart kids. You're with the dumb kids." Boy, wouldn't that be fun.

Maybe there's a way we can avoid or lessen that effect. Or maybe there's another alternative we haven't thought of. Some way to make sure all the kids benefit, but not making any kids feel more defeated than they already do.

Any ideas?


Rick said...

Seems that kids are going to label each other whether they are in separate groups (label by group) or all together, where their differences are apparent to all. Seems as though having smaller groups where similar interest/ablilty levels were together would enable more camaraderie within each group, and less finger-pointing.

I know those bumper stickers, "my kid is an honor student at..." have always annoyed me for the fact that the parent is bragging publicly and is inadvertently but actively putting other non-honor students down. I relate to your concern.

When I taught high school English, I had one class of "advanced" seniors, three classes of "regular" soph, jrs, and srs, and one of "remedial" seniors. I don't think having them so grouped hurt them. The one could take assignments in writing that none of the others could have. The middle three all faced just getting through, and the remedial I got to face the challenge of working to pass the class, earn some self-respect, and graduate. If they'd all been in one group, the remedials would've been put down, sulked, and gotten nowhere, the advanced wouldn't have been able to take on advanced writing assignments, and the others would have just stumbled along, being put down and putting down those below them. Kids are kids that way, no?

Long reply, but I'd sure go for the smaller groups by ability and foster the camaraderie of the individual groups. Just thinkin' the labeling would be less severe. But then, I have been known to be wrong.

Good question to contemplate.

R.C. Lewis said...

Excellent points to ponder, Rick. Seems like a "lesser of two evils" situation no matter how you look at it. Thanks for your thoughts.