Learning at a PD session today on Assistive Tech the presenter recalled their own struggles in school. She discussed the day she realized she was not as strong academically as her peers when her teacher created 3 different math groups. The Advanced, Regular and Low groups. As the teacher organized all her friends in the Advanced group she sat telling herself it was ok because at least she wasn’t in the low group, then the regular group was announced and she was not on that list either. She said her mother told her “Something Broke That Day”
I am not sure why that phrase hit me so hard but I have spent a lot of time looking at grouping and identifying students into ability groups or having behaviour charts and how these things were the way “we” were told to teach as I was leaving University. It was the current “Best Practice” at the time and as I reflect now I see why these are not the best ways to do things but many do not. I am not sure they see the damage that is being done by grouping students as letters, or numbers or animals or shapes or colours or… or…or… because some times the damage is not seen. I did not consider when I did a Hinge point questions for formative math assessment that the B group working with me recognized they were the worst at that concept. I did not know of a more efficient way to help those struggling learners. I am not sure I do yet but I know that isolating struggling learners into a “struggling learner” category is not the way to go.
When I first started teaching I was told Guided Reading groups were the way to go and levels was the best way to organize because “if they all read at the same level they need the same thing” right? Well that would be incorrect to start as we know that there are countless reasons why students may be low readers. But I did as I was told because well that was the research at the time, as I understood it. My coworkers and I had made up great groups for intervention and we had our grade 3 students moving to and from different classrooms to “maximize” our effectiveness, we even had cute themed groups, with cute little clip art. We were awesome and our students did perform well. So we win, on the outside students were growing in reding levels but I never really considered the harm done when students noticed that all the struggling readers were in the same group. I couldn’t help what I didn’t know but now I do, now we do, so we can’t keep doing this…right?
Take a moment and consider in your real life, if you were an employer would you rather your top workers mentor you developing workers or would you take all your developing workers no matter their individual needs and give them the same training? Would your employees be better prepared for success?
When I first started teaching there was this great movement sweeping the pintrest world. The behaviour clip chart. Teachers had full class versions with clips that moved up and down from excellent to “working on it” or whatever the descriptor was for bad. We even gave students desk top versions that we could have right there close so if they could not see the full class version they would not forget how they were doing. I was told that it was a great way to motivate students to behave. For example if they were not on the green for go they had to miss recess time, or maybe if they were on red they missed out on community circle (both of these examples I witnessed). I am not saying a behaviour system is bad, we need rules, we need structure. What we don’t need is public shaming, removing children from social situations because they can’t follow social scripts is not going to help them follow them more.
We talk about differentiation all the time but I think what we forget is that it is more than just grouping it is about making learning accessible. We talk about classroom management and student support and yet we still have students in fear of being put in the yellow zone or heaven forbid the red zone. We still have students in hallways because they could not follow the rules not did not but could not. We alter our instruction to reach different types of learners but expect students to all be able to follow the same rules…
I do not want this to seem like a condemnation of teachers or teaching practice. As I understood it when I did these things I was following “best practice” I was trying to be the best teacher I could be. I did not at the time know better. Now I do. I started this blog with the line “Something Broke That Day” I can not help but wonder how my best, well intentioned, actions contributed to breaking the spirt, the drive or the inquisitive nature of my students that needed my support the most.
With the infinite potential of our students on the line we must not just ask ourselves if our practices are considered “best teaching practices” we must ask if the actions in our classrooms are what are best for the growth of our students as inquisitive unique learners.