Saturday, February 20, 2016

This doesn't make differences less noticeable

One of the arguments against self-contained gifted classes is that children who don't receive this label will feel inferior. While that would certainly be a sad outcome, an experiment in Baltimore raises the question of how, exactly, creating heterogeneous classes would change that.

A recent article in the Baltimore Sun highlights changes in the area's gifted programs. In years past, all students were screened in 2nd grade, and students who met the criteria were put in advanced classes in reading and math. While some argue that second grade is a bit late, screening all children is definitely best practice (as opposed to having a secret program that parents have to ask about).

In any case, school officials decided that they wanted to move away from a so-called tracking approach, and do flexible, in-class groupings instead. Kids could move in and out of groups as they progressed.

There is nothing wrong with fluid grouping, and indeed, too many gifted programs have had no in or out, regardless of how life progressed. But the Sun article raised an interesting point, that "the new approach only makes differences among children of varying skill levels more noticeable, potentially harming those deemed not ready for more advanced material." In the words of one mother, "Children notice the differences. I think it calls more attention to the fact that children are reading in different groups."

When kids are in a different class down the hall learning something different, you're only vaguely aware of it at any given moment. If you are very obviously in the lower level group in a mixed class, the differences are right in your face.

So the problem isn't solved, and a new one is created: teachers have to adjust to multiple levels constantly. Even the best, most experienced teachers find this difficult. It's hard to see how this is a step forward.