Thursday, June 19, 2008

The "Default" Classroom

"Even though teachers think they are teaching to the middle, Slavin noted that the steering group general represents the 19th to 23rd percentile of ability in the class - far too low for the majority of learners in the class."


"In general, the research studies show almost no instances in which whole-group instruction of students of heterogeneous ability is more beneficial for gifted children than some form of differentiated small group instruction. If educators should want to level the playing field of achievement so that all become mediocre in their output, then whole-group instruction is the answer!"


"There is this feeling among all too many educators that what they offer in the classroom is not only necessary, but also sufficient for all learners."

-Karen B. Rogers, Ph.D., "Re-Forming Gifted Education"

The quotations above are within just a couple pages of each other in Rogers' book. In this particular section, she is discussing the "default" option of mixed-ability classroom groups. I find it disconcerting that, given all the evidence Rogers provides, we are left with the impression that not only are gifted children's needs not being met, but those of the average child. If 85% of children can pass grade-level pretests with fairly high proficiency, if the bottom third of the class is being targeted for instruction, if only the slowest children are learning anything new, then why aren't the majority of parents complaining about the state of education?

I'm not sure what the answer is, but I have a few theories:

1 - Most parents aren't sure what is going on in the classroom. They only see that their child is doing sufficiently well, and that is enough to assuage any concerns.

2 - This method of instruction makes average children feel very competant and thus not likely to complain about boredom.

3 - Parents do not heed their children's complaints of boredom seriously. (I know that I began this journey by telling my son that we all have to learn to do things we don't like or find boring.)

4 - Parents are too intimidated by the thought that teachers and administrators are "professionals" or that teaching standards are written by "professionals". They don't feel like they have enough knowledge to advocate for their child's educational needs.

5 - Even when parents and/or children advocate on behalf of their own learning, teachers respond as above: they believe they are teaching to the average student in the class or that they are professionals and know more about education than parents and children.

In essence, the system perpetuates mediocrity because teachers refuse to accept their instruction may be flawed or feel compelled to follow standards exactly. Parents don't feel empowered or sufficiently knowledgeable to push for changes. When children voice concerns about their lack of education, they aren't taken seriously. These possibilities may factor into the reason that the majority of the students in the classroom continue to be unchallenged in their educational setting.

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