Having a classroom of diverse learners – diverse in learning styles, socioeconomic status, cultural backgrounds, language, and accommodations – is often embraced and appreciated in the classroom. However, it also requires considerable scaffolding and differentiating to accommodate the needs of every student. What techniques could a teacher implement to fit the needs of all of his or her students?
Now at my second placement, I am seeing a seasoned teacher tackle this exact issue. Specifically, three levels of learning achievement in a mainstream science classroom are merging into two. How then, can a teacher strike a balance between those lagging behind and those speeding ahead? Additionally, what social and political issues arise when any action, is taken?
Studies have found that heterogeneous mixing of student with varying achievement levels can promote learning for the entire class. As I have referenced in earlier blog posts, learning happens through talking, and what better way to learn then when students talk, help one another, revise and build new ideas together (See constructivist theory). So in instances of mixing such students, the higher achieving ones can further their understanding of content knowledge by explaining it to those of lower achievement. This simultaneously gives these more gifted and advanced students leadership roles in the classrooms, while also building the understanding of those students who are struggling.
Evidently, non-ability, heterogenous groups can be effective in advancing student learning and achievement. Each year, the classroom walls are repainted with the diversity of its students. One year, the classroom may include students with and without learning disabilities or severe disabilities; or perhaps the classroom is a blend of socioeconomic standing students or English language learners (ELLs). Regardless of the specific population demographics, the most effective classrooms are inclusive ones in which diversity is embraced and “all students are respected as competent and active learners – regardless of skill level – there is a space for everyone to learn and grow” (Valle and Connor, 2011, p.73). As seen in the video clips below, heterogenous, non-ability grouping can do just that.
Interestingly, in my second placement, a middle school in the Greater Rochester Area, I am finding that heterogenous mixing may be neutralizing, or possibly negating the overall classroom progress. Over the span of four class sections, it is evident that despite the heterogenous groupings and inclusive practices, the classes are still struggling with pacing and achievement. Based on daily, formative and summative assessments the middle achieving students are actually slipping towards the lowest achieving students, while the highest achieving students are thriving, completing extra practice assignments, and in many cases, out of tasks to do. After already assigning extra practice assignments, my mentor teacher does not want to administer further tasks to these high achieving students. Moreover, many of these students are reluctant to act as that guiding classroom leader to the lower achieving students.
So what then is to be done? On the flip side, how much additional time can feasibly be offered to students who find themselves in the middle or low achieving area? In this Regents level science course, there are higher stakes with the curriculum pacing. How then can this issue of slowed pacing be addressed without comprising the learning needs of all of the students?
Valle, J.W. and Connor, D.J. (2011). Rethinking Disability: A Disability Studies Approach to Inclusive Practices. New York, NY: McGraw.