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Topic: "Tracking and fine distinctions"
Replies: 8   Last Post: May 14, 1997 3:15 PM

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W Gary Martin

Posts: 55
Registered: 12/6/04
Re: "Tracking and fine distinctions"
Posted: May 14, 1997 3:15 PM
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Joan, I do not think that pointing out the reality that tracking/grouping
is regressive and tends to create second-class citizens (generally
perpetuating the existing class structure) is "disintegrating" the level of
discussion. It is a critical point.
Putting that to a side. Suppose the ideal world you outline below
existed. I would still have reservations about grouping. First, on what
basis are the groups formed? Past achievement is not a guarantee of future
performance. When a student is put in a "slow" group, we do not know if
he/she might now be capable of performing in the "fast" group if put into
that environment. In fact, many studies have pointed out the critical
importance of expectations. If students are expected to be slow, they will
be. If they are expected to achieve, they will. I have seen this first-hand
many, many times.
Second, I believe (based on personal experience) that students of
different "levels" can learn a lot from each other. Obviously, when "low"
students are segregated, they do not have the opportunity of seeing "high"
level thinking, let alone the attitudes or work habits. Their reference
group becomes normative. On the other hand, the "high" kids can often learn
a lot from other kids. Many times they think things are "obvious" that
really aren't; having someone question what their methods increases their
understanding. Also, I have seen many occasions where "low" kids have
attacked problems in intuitive, common-sense ways that amaze the "gifted"
kids who may have more "advanced" (read abstract) approaches but not
necessarily better understanding. Also, "gifted" students need to learn to
work with people of all levels, not just those of like mind.
I could go on, but I'll bring this to a close. A rich learning
environment can accommodate a broad range of learners who interact with
each other to create useful understandings of mathematics. To me, this is
optimal. No grouping required!

At 12:01 -0400 5/14/97, Joan Reinthaler wrote:
>The problem with discussions about grouping (I agree that this is a much
>better term than "tracking") is that it almost never focuses on the pros
>and cons of grouping. It almost always disintegrates into a discussion
>about how kids are stuck in tracks - that kids who need extra support
>generally get poor or inexperienced teachers or mediocre material.
>Suppose that kids routinely moved in or out of their groups as their needs
>changed. Suppose, further, that the best teachers taught the slowest
>kids. Suppose further that every group was given appropriately rich and
>challenging material. Then - what are the pros and cons of groyping?
>To me this would be an honest discussion about this important topic.
>Joan Reinthaler
>Sidwell Friends School
>On Wed, 14 May 1997, W Gary Martin wrote:

>> The problem is that grouping, even as you describe it, very rapidly turns
>> into de facto tracking. It is very common that an elementary classroom will
>> have different levels of math groups. Now you may not call this tracking,
>> but in fact students are not shuffled around all that much. And it is
>> difficult to move up to a higher level. Think about it: If I'm in the red
>> group working on Chapter 6, how easy will it be for me to move up to the
>> advanced blue group working on Chapter 8? This can also become a
>> self-fulfilling prophecy; I am in the low group, which means I'm not good
>> in math... so what's the use in studying hard? Finally, lower groups may
>> well receive less intellectually stimulating instruction than the "able"
>> students, since they are not believed to be capable of higher-level
>> thinking... leading to less learning.
>> So, while adjustments for "current level of interest and performance" may
>> sound commendable, they are just not that likely. As we all know, inertia
>> is a powerful force in education. Many students are put in the low group
>> (track) in early elementary... and are put in the low group (track) every
>> succeeding year for the rest of their careers. It is an awful waste.
>> Something to think about,
>> W. Gary Martin

>> >I'm on your side.
>> PS: I didn't know this was a competition that had sides. I thought we were
>> all on the same side, working towards improving the education of children.

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