Teachers face challenges when trying to meet students where they are. Traditionally, schools put students into ability groups that remain set throughout the year. Teachers who use readiness groups, on the other hand, set them up as needed. An excerpt from Teaching from the Middle of the Room explains this important difference.

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  • …a teacher passes out three different colored cubes (red, green, and blue) to individual students sitting at their respective tables. She asks all of them to use the “compare and contrast” side on each cube: Those having red cubes are to draw a picture of their historical person and a member of their family and write a comparison; those with green are to use a Venn diagram; and those with blue are to create an open-ended compare-and-contrast diagram. The teacher has no qualms about using colored cubes, nor apparently do her students.

But teachers in my workshops do. “I can’t abide having students know that some are ‘better’ than others,” someone invariably states. “It’s not right to group kids like that,” another adds. “How do you think the ‘red-group kids’ feel seeing their classmates doing higher-level work?” “It’s not fair to allow some kids to do higher-level work in front of their peers…”

Paradoxically, on the one hand, participants criticize the video teacher for setting up “readiness” groups for lessons as a form of tracking, and at the same time, validate their own school’s decision to make permanent homogeneous groupings for “bright,” “average,” and “slow” students.

Such descriptors dominate nearly all conversations about students. By the end of the discussion, the video teachers’ message often becomes lost as teachers defend their groupings. Pressures to perform well on state and federal assessment, they argue, demands they teach as fast as possible and in the way they know best: Making “readiness” groups would take too much time; “ability” groups are more efficient.

Where do you stand on this issue? Do you teach ability-level classes? Are you willing to create readiness-level assignments as needed?

 For more on this crucial issue of grouping see Chapter 11 Abolish Tracking in Teaching from the Middle of the Room: Inviting students to Learn from Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Teaching-Middle-Room-Frank-Thoms/dp/0615358918.

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