Thursday, November 16, 2006

Readiness v. Ability

Blog reader Robin, the mom of a highly gifted sixth grader, sent me this link to the Duke Gifted Letter the other day. This particular issue has a two expert back-and-forth about abilty grouping.

While the evidence from various studies shows that ability grouping is the best option for gifted kids (kids learn best when they're challenged in an environment with their intellectual peers) it remains somewhat controversial. Schools usually tolerate different math groups, for instance, but won't differentiate for most other subjects until high school.

Anyway, one of the experts interviewed for the Duke letter said that "readiness" was a much more potent word than "ability." Reading into her words, I think she means that ability implies something set and unchanging -- it's a value judgement. But readiness is a simple statement of the facts. Some kids are ready for more advanced reading, and some aren't ready yet. That doesn't mean they won't ever be ready. They just aren't right now. "Readiness grouping" implies a correct match, at a particular point in time, for a kid's needs.

So I think it's a great phrase, one gifted advocates should consider using instead of "ability grouping." I'm curious what everyone else thinks.


Anonymous said...

I was in violent agreement with both experts in this article until it got to the part about differentiation. I have found that differentiation is too difficult for most teachers to manage well, so most end up not really providing it. Yes, I agree that tracking is not ideal and ability grouping is better! Please call it readiness as long as it doesn’t become watered down and defeat the purpose.

This may be simplistic, but the very small elementary school (K-6th) that I attended managed to work it out. Fourth, fifth and six grades held instruction for subjects at the same time. If you were high in that particular subject, you went to the next higher grade. Of course (then) in six grade, you might become a tutor.

Today, the six grade kids could do an on-line course or individual study. I would prefer that my kids receive instruction (at their level) by a teacher rather than be made dependent on self-study, but most parents will be flexible if they understand that the school is making the effort to challenge all children.

Debbie said...

I don't really care what you call it. Perhaps "readiness grouping" would be better received by those against "tracking'. But I think the bottom line is that this type of teaching structure requires assessment of EVERY child as to exactly what they are ready to learn. And since kids all learn at different rates, they have to be constantly reassessed. I believe that most public education programs would balk at that, no matter what you call it. They don't want to have to individually test each and every child. They want to group and teach to a minimum standard. Readiness grouping would also mean that children would be moved through the education system at different rates. God forbid. Every child doing what is best for them individually?

I also agree that teaching to individual differences is best. But, until the administration of our public eduation system changes its philosophy on education, grouping by ability and not age as a regular approach to education won't occur in any form. Our system, as a whole, seems more concerned with minimum standards than potential. Therein lies the sadness of our system. For all our children. Not just the gifted ones.

Anonymous said...

OK - it's a difficult task, but some of our new computer based testing tools such as NWEA's MAP show promise.

If we don't ask for it, we certianly won't get it.

Anonymous said...

I really like the "readiness" term. I think it fits a good deal of "gifted" accommodations: My 8-yr old son is "ready" for Algebra. My 5-yr old is "ready" for second grade work. Etc. It seems less offensive than "gifted", though I'm not sure it encompasses all accommodations (non-core subject readiness, like extreme musical ability, or passion areas). The more I think about it, the more I like it.