Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Utopia Elementary School

I've been pondering the last couple days what an ideal public school situation would look like. I think that birthdate, while an unequivocal standard, is a stupid measure to determine where a child should be in school. I'm sure I've mentioned before how strong a proponent I am of ability grouping. Even though ability has become a dirty word in education since the "Self-esteem Movement" of the 1980s-90s (which current research is showing to be a crock), called "elitest" and all that, I honestly believe that grouping children of like ability is the best way to teach everyone.

Ideally, elementary school should be more like high school, with a greater variety of subjects and students grouped by like ability and interests rather than age. This should benefit kids at all points on the educational spectrum. Those having more trouble grasping the material would have the time to really work on the fundamentals. Those sailing through could be pushed even further. those is the middle would have a chance to differentiate themselves to a greater degree than they can now.

But would elementary teachers go for it? Turns out some already have. I received the following info from Sara Stone in the Elkhorn, WI school district:

"We did some flexible grouping in our elementary math classes. Students were pretested and then "shuffled" The top 1/3 were placed together and their needs were met through depth of material. Pacing had to stay the same as the other two classes so the unit of study ended at the same time in all three classes.

The other 2/3 were heterogeneously grouped. What the teachers found was that the top 1/3 were NOT the same group of kids every time. There were a core group of about 5-7 who pretested into that group but the rest flexibly moved in and out based on the pretest. Parents were thrilled and faculty felt that they were meeting educational needs better than before.

They also found, that since the top kids were not in the other two classes then students had to come up with ideas, answers etc. that the students previously relied on from the top kids. Also, it allowed students the opportunity to move at a pace that was more appropriate and then could discover the concepts rather than always having the top kids answering. So, really moving the top kids out allows for more educational growth for the other students. I do think a key here was that kids knew that they could move in and out of the group based on the pretest.

So, contrary to popular misconception taking the top kids out does not mean the rest of the kids will fall apart. ...It is NOT the task of the top kids to make the other kids learn. Last time I checked that is the teacher's responsibility. AND if she/he is using the gifted kids to enable the kids learning how is she meeting the needs of those gifted. "

Ah, a school after my own heart. :D

I also heard this morning from a mother on the Mensa Bright Kids list that the private school her son attends uses a similar method, but for all subjects, not just math. Glory be!

Now the question is, how do we get the rest of the public schools to follow suit?

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