Thursday, October 20, 2005


My curiosity was peaked today when our group approached the tracking vs. mainstreaming debate. When I create a post for the group, I'll go into more detail on this, but I'm wondering where the rest of our class stands on this issue. Coming from New York City where almost all students are mainstreamed in public schools, grappling with teaching tracked classes has been a little uncomfortable for me. I feel that some students in my regular classes would benefit from the level of discussion in my Honors classes, and vice versa. I think it's important that students interact with a variety of people--not just those who get straight A's and B's.


Blogger Davis said...

I am thrilled to hear this idea of challenging tracking. I know there is a place for basic skills and honors, but I do feel that we lose some richness in the classroom without such diverse populations. I also feel the Honors kids feel superior and that everyone else should not be valued as they are.

1:47 PM  
Blogger McBride said...

Great comments... I have had two kids who were in skills history last year and they came to me and told me before being placed in regular history class. Its been a struggle but they are rising to the level... they can do it, they just need to believe that they can. They way in which they believe that they can, is having us providing them with the opportunity. When we limit their opportunity we limit their beliefs!

1:48 PM  
Blogger Wallace said...

I believe that the problem would be trying to get everyone engaged in the discussion. It always seems that the honors kids like to hear themselves talk and the other kids gladly sit back and let them do it.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Karl Fisch said...

I always have this debate with myself. I think philosophically I'm against tracking, and I think the research generally backs that up. But I also know that when I taught honors classes it was a very different atmosphere. I guess what I'd like to figure out is how to make all my classes more like my honors classes (well, the good part of the honors classes - there are downsides as well . . .)

8:44 PM  
Blogger Crosby said...

I guess that I am in the unpopular minority that likes tracking. I can see and understand the arguments against it, but I think that in some classes it is almost necessary. Why?

First of all, at the high school level the students have many requirements to fulfill, and there are many departments in which tracking is not available. Thus, students will encounter people of different ability levels in some of their classes.

Additionally, how can we prepare the students who are the highest achieving for strenuous college and post grad classes if they have never experienced the fast pace of honors and AP classes? I bring my personal biases here, I admit. I hated classes that slowed down because some people couldn't keep up. I honestly didn't think that I was any "better" than those students, I just wanted to be challenged. (I readily admit that some honors students do see themselves as "better," but I think that as honors teachers we have the responsibility and ability to combat those opinions.)

Finally, I think that we set some students up for failure if, for example, they read at the 3rd grade level and we put them in all regular 9th grade classes. (You ask how they made it to 9th grade in the first place - that is a matter for another discussion.) Our 9th grade history textbook is difficult for many of the at-grade-level students to understand, and those who are below that level often get frustrated and sometimes check out. I think that we do a horrible disservice to students like that, if their cognitive or reading levels are not where they need to be, when we mainstream them before they are ready.

10:32 PM  
Blogger DOUGW said...

My little brother is a special needs student who has been fighting the system for seven years. His IEP and team of parapros and special education teachers in elementary school did absolutely nothing to help him. To certain teachers, each student is a product on an assembly line. As each piece comes, they bolt on another part. Now, he goes to a private school in Lakewood called Havern. Havern's tuition is $14,000 per school year, for basic education tailored to each individual. As a direct consequence of uncaring teachers in this very school district, my family, and especially my brother, has been put through enormous grief and financial hardship.

That's what teachers who think they have it easy teaching 'stupid classes' do.

Life is not about what grade you get- therefore, classes geared towards grades are not beneficial to life. Case in point- A Friend of Mine. This friend has multiple F's and D's and C's, comingled with the errant A and B. Friend is not good at traditional, tracked school. This is not to say Friend does not have talents. He has devised explosives detonation systems that surpass any idea of mine. He rewired my computer. He rebuilt his lawnmower. He knows more about the theatre lighting system than the school has allowed him to learn. He's failing school. Friend has an entirely different education experience than me. I consider him a genius in his field. Now, apply this underachiever to an Honors class, and what happens? He fails. However, apply this student to an integrated class, and what happens? He may fail, he may succeed, but his input makes the classroom environment a more wholesome, diverse, and round education experience for all.
That said, I do enjoy honors-level discussion. This does not have to disappear with integration- those who are motivated will share. The traditional bell curve is shaped how it is for a reason (I hate that style of curving). In an integrated classroom, life is taught alongside curriculum. Because life does not mirror an honors class, honors classes are not effective preparation for life. Remember the "Is Intelligence A Virtue" blog? Yup, intelligence comes in many forms. In this way, you've got our entire class behind integration.
Take this- Life does not come with honors auditions.
So why not make everyone Honors by allowing them the honor of interacting with a heterogenious education environment.
That's the honors system from the inside.

7:23 PM  
Blogger DOUGW said...

Looking back over what I wrote, I recognize some holes I've punctured in the fabric of logical thinking. These need sewing before they rip even more. Crosby has a point on the preparation piece. However, there is a solution- I propose mandatory discussion classes. Most people in favor of tracking seem to consider higher-level discussion key. I also realize the desire for peer-peer-teacher conversing.

Discussion can be strictly guided and graded, loosely guided, or totally freeranging- it's up to the Almightly School Board (Bless their divinity). Topics may range from applied Algebra to abortion- it's up to you. Yes, you. This leaves crucial room for whatever level each student is at. In an effort not to completely abandon my previous blog, placements for these discussion classes must be based on a variety of indicators, not just CSAP, grades and IQ tests. These should be mandatory both semesters, all four years, in order to graduate.

7:41 PM  
Blogger danak said...

I love Doug's ideas on "mandatory discussion" classes. I agree that discussion is on of the classroom activities that sparks the most interest in the mind of a student. Though this may be difficult to arrange in small classrooms with lots of students, I also think everyone feels more engaged when the desks are set up facing each other, in a circle. That way, the students can look at each other, give their full attention, and it would be much harder to sink into the woodwork and avoid commenting.

An old teacher of mine used to grade discussions based on who contributed by making a map of the desks in the circle and labeling the deaks with our names. She would then draw a line to the desk of whom was speaking. At the end, she would post the map and it was obvious whose desk was surrounded by lines and whose wasn't. I really liked this and I think it worked because those students who didn't talk definately talked the next time.

My only question is: How many classes could you do this with. It is easy to discuss literature in English, sure, but what about Science and Math? I suppose one could have discussion about History, but how do you hold someone's attention in Geometry?

5:36 PM  
Blogger DOUGW said...

In response to Dana's inquiry of how to hold intelligent discussion in Geometry-- design bridges, improvise partial-differential equations, predict launch trajectories, do architecture, calculate necessary velocity, angular proportions, and the like. Interesting discussion can be had, no matter the subject matter. Make the final a calculation of materials and volumes of a building, and set it in some extreme locale (like under the ocean) that requires creative improvisation.

8:49 PM  

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