Monday, November 29, 2010

On Grouping by Levels

When I was a kid, I moved with my parents to a country (ie. the States) whose language I didn't speak. In the few years that followed, I experienced being grouped with other language-learning kids in remedial classes, where the teacher taught less material every week simply because the teacher didn't have faith in our collective ability to learn. Even as a kid, I had decided that no one else was going to determine for me what my limits were. I went home and studied, on my own, so that I wouldn't lag behind other kids in other classes. In the end, I think I turned out doing OK, even though I definitely took a bit of time to get there.

As a teacher, I occasionally come across kids who really, really struggle with basic instructions/material on a daily basis. (As in, 20 to 30 minutes into the problem set, and they're barely starting #2.) Sometimes I find myself feeling very frustrated, wondering if such a kid is really placed in the right class. And then, a part of me always asks quietly, "Who has the right to say what any one kid can achieve? If I hold them back, if I ask them to change into a more remedial class*, then I am fundamentally doubting the kid's ability to achieve. Maybe all this kid needs is a little more time -- and a little more patience/a different approach from me."

The truth is, in the end I don't know if I have the ability to serve every child in my classroom the way they need to be helped. But I can do my best without giving up on that kid. (And, very occasionally, that mentality translates to seeing a 60 going up to an 80 by the end of the year.)

*I find this type of mentality to be surprisingly common amongst honors-level teachers. Often it's very easy to say that a kid doesn't belong in our honors class, because they aren't quite as "quick" as the others. To me, my favorite kids -- honors or not -- are those who give me 110% daily. If a kid is willing to REALLY try their best in an honors class, who are we to say that they don't belong? For that, I really like my school's open-enrollment policy for honors (and AP) classes.

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