Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Midnight musings

It's way past my bedtime but I'm lying awake with a migraine and a leaking bathroom ceiling, so I'll put this question to my readers: Is differentiated instruction unegalitarian?

Our students are in the process of writing their first essay in Global Studies: "What political, economic and social conditions lead to revolutions?" The students have done a lot to prepare to write the essay, and we are beginning to work out outlines. The class for whom I am primarily responsible will be starting their outlines tomorrow by coming up with thesis statements.

I've been having minor discipline problems in that class from kids who are either way ahead of everyone else and bored, or way behind and lost. Writing an essay, I fear, is only going to amplify that problem. So I proposed differentiating: doing a mini-lesson on writing thesis statements, and then breaking out into groups according to level to write thesis statements of varying complexity. The students who need the most help, for instance, might write a thesis such as "There are many conditions that lead to revolutions," while more advanced students might come up with something like "People start revolutions when they feel life is unfair and they have no other way to change it."

I pitched the idea to my cooperating teacher, who responded that he has never grouped kids according to ability level, and sees doing that as "tracking." In his words, shouldn't all the kids have the opportunity to see what thesis statements of varying complexity look like?

I definitely see where he's coming from, and I'm torn. His perspective is egalitarian: it holds all students up to the same standard and provides them all with the same level of support. And don't kids rise to the expectations we hold for them?

I don't know what the answer is, but I thought I'd throw it out to the more experienced teachers among you.

4 comments:

mrc said...

Teachers that I've seen who successfully use groups change them frequently and randomly. The rationale is this: every grouping has something to offer. When you end up with groupings by ability, then you can differentiate. When you get mixed groupings, there's opportunities for students to teach each other. You just accept that randomness will do all of these things for you over time.

The key is that you don't lock students into groups forever, no matter what style of grouping it happens to be. After students get some experience with this they become more willing to work in whatever group (with the exception of major personality conflict, behavior problems, etc. of course). If they know it's only temporary, and if they can see that it's fully random, then you avoid students trying to guess why you chose your groupings: Am I the smart kid in this group? Is this the group with all the dumb kids?

julie said...

That is a great idea! Thank you.

Steve-O said...

Tough to decision on this one. I think let the kids write their thesis statements and compare and contrast them to the other students. Personally I would not seperate the student for obvious reasons. Maybe if some of the students have spare time the can check out the Careers and Eudcation website.

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