attainment grouping

Posted on March 2, 2020

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On twitter that’s the phrase used and I rejoice because it’s not “ability” grouping as if it were a trait not a dynamic state.

The discussion then turned into “but how do we teach groups that have some folks at [some level I don’t understand but it had the number 9 in it] and some at [a thing with the number 5]?   And yes, somebody said “explaining to others is a good thing,” as in “let the kids who are ahead explain to the ones who are behind.”

Yes.    Being able to discuss and explain things is good.

Sorry, though.   The “we’ve got somebody who …”  okay, what?  Is Behind?  There are so many ways to “be behind.”   Is this a kiddo who hasn’t learned any math for whatever reason?   Is it a kiddo who’s a slow processor but could grow up to be a physicist?   Is it … oh, the list goes on?  Do they actually need some tutoring… and you’re going to give that job to the kiddo with the  misfortune to be able to do these assigned tasks more quickly and fluently?

This made me ponder:   what if by dint of circumstance, all the students in a grade at school just happened to be at a very similar “attainment level”?   Would we be able to be more effective?   I bet we would.

What if the issue isn’t that they’re grouped, but that those deemed at a lower attainment level are also considered to be lower ability, even if we’re in the same classroom… so we’ll spend more time drilling procedures so they can pass arbitrary assessments and play well for our politicians at least this year…. instead of providing the richer experiences they need to develop those ideas and make the cognitive connections so that they also become reasonably fluent with the symbols and concepts?  How often are these “mixed groups” doing exactly that — presenting a lesson and working with “certain students” to see if they can get enough of the procedure to pass?   Tracking is a travesty, but we are perfectly capable of doing it with everybody in the same classroom at the same time.

I love lessons that include having students put the math into words, especially building the ideas in student language and then working to build it to the more abstract, precise mathematical language, especially when they actually get some confidence in using that language.    I grieve for the years I hadn’t seen what carefully constructed lessons and listening *hard* to students could do to nurture mathematical competence.