When we group strugglers together, all
the experts except the teacher are taken
from the mix. So learners become even
more dependent on the teacher. The
teacher has total control of the group’s
learning because he or she is the one
who holds the information. When there
are lots of learners whose needs are great,
taking away other possible “teachers”
isn’t an efficient way to meet needs.
When it was time for me to attend my
technology session, I begrudgingly
dragged myself down to the computer
lab. I knew that none of the people who
usually helped me would be in my
group. I had to learn the information
quickly, and I was stressed because I
didn’t have the time or confidence
to figure it out on my own.
Because everyone in my group
would need the teacher’s help, I
knew I couldn’t count on much
one-on-one help from him.
Luckily, when I arrived, the
group before me was still
finishing up. So I quickly looked
around to see whether I could sit
for a few moments by someone who
knew more than I did. I rushed to grab
the seat next to Scott. He wouldn’t stick
around long, so I had to work fast. Once
Scott left, I was on my own. Ellen,
another English teacher, sat on the other
side of me. She didn’t know much more
than I did when it came to computers.
An effective way for me to learn is to
find people who are more skilled than I
am. These experts serve as models who
enable me to “see” what to do. Jean-Claude Killy, the famous French skier
who dominated the 1968 Winter
Olympics, said, “The best and fastest way
to learn a sport is to watch and imitate a
champion.” I was trying to learn how to
set up my grade book—and time was of
the essence. With the computer lab full
of struggling learners and only one
“champion” to help, I knew I was in
Cordoning struggling students off by
themselves simply won’t meet their
needs. Struggling learners tend to shut
down with frustration. They melt into
the background until the challenge
passes. Sometimes the teacher will take
over and do the work for them, but this
doesn’t help anyone improve.
But what about advanced learners?
Some argue that ability grouping is an
effective way to meet their needs. Proponents of tracking claim that if such
students aren’t together, they will spend
all their time helping less able learners.
This can pose a problem. However,
advanced learners are more confident
than strugglers. They tend to be more
impatient when their needs aren’t met,
and this impatience can force them to
take a more active role in their learning.
Instead of saying, “I don’t get it,” they
typically isolate their confusion by
asking specific questions that lead to
more targeted feedback.
Insight 3: Past performance is
just that . . . past performance.
It’s stunning how much stock we put
into standardized tests scores. Noted
researcher Gerald Bracey1 wrote,
In the last 50 years, the United States has
descended from viewing tests first as a
useful tool, then as a necessity, and finally
as the sole instrument needed to evaluate
teachers, schools, districts, states, and
nations. (p. 32)