Monday, December 04, 2006

My One Pager

Brittany Bergin
ECC301D- Professor Cindy O’Donnell-Allen
Research Questions
How successful is ability grouping for our student’s academic achievement? Are there ways around ability grouping in a classroom full of diverse learners?

As I sit and listen to the teacher talk to her class of enthusiastic 9th graders about a novel they will be reading for the following 8 weeks, frustration begins to overwhelm my thoughts because of what she is telling her students. The routine seems harmless at first, but I notice that as she begins to call the students names out loud she labels them out loud too. She names the students that are in the Pre-AP level first, and says that they can read in the pit (a place with a high reputation to the entire class). She then begins to call students names that are on her list; I asked to see her list after class and it is in order – from the higher reading levels to the lower reading levels. I was astonished. I began to take note on the student reactions after they were assigned to their groups and I noticed that the enthusiasm I noted before had somewhat diminished.

This experience led me to my overall question

Primary Sources

  • Karl Fisch’s blog, “The Fischbowl”This blog introduced me to my topic and later influenced my questions
  • Personal interview with Carron Silva, a 9th grade English teacher at Cache La Poudre Junior High school
  • Observation notes on Carron Silva’s 9th grade class
  • 9th grade CSAP and reading levels scores for the state of Colorado and CLP junior high in 2006

Major Themes
School Influence, Student’s Background, and Heterogeneous Grouping vs. Homogeneous Grouping are the three most significant themes I found in my inquiry.

Future Questions
Learning how to teach to every student’s unique abilities becomes an enduring task. Thinking about this and its possibilities, more questions begin to rise: how do you encourage students of diverse abilities to engage in learning collaboratively? Do students improve their own work by incorporating the work of their peers’? How does this theory play out in writing groups? How does it play out in reading groups?

Secondary Sources
Article by Michael Opitz, “Empowering the Reader in Every Child”
Article by Maureen Hallinan, “The Effects of Ability Grouping in Secondary Schools”


At 3:30 PM, Blogger camdaram said...

As a 6th grade teacher, I will sometimes choose the reading groups my kids are in for lit. circles. When I placed a girl who normally was placed in the middle or a lower group with a bunch a high achieving kids, she looked at me like I was crazy. After the second day, she asked me if I made a mistake. When I asked her why, she said, "Because all these kids are smart, and I'm not." I told her she was and she said, "No, Mr. S, I'm really not." By the middle of the book she was holding her own in that group. Her confidence and performance in my class was never the same after that--it took one time putting her with a group of high flyers for her to believe and perform. I tried to do something similar to that with each group, but now even more so. I usually try to get a good mix of advanced, proficient, pp, and unsatisfactory because they can all learn from each other.
If they aren't equal in my eyes as a teacher, they won't see themselves that way in the mirror.

At 7:15 PM, Blogger Carron Silva said...

Dear Reader,

Recently, as a curiosity to see what would come up, I entered my name into Google. I was dismayed to find this post by Miss Bergin, who was a Professional Development School(PDS) CSU ED350 candidate in my junior high classroom. She spent a total of 80 minutes twice a week in my first period class for eight weeks. This class consisted of three levels of students" so-called "regular" 9th grade students, Pre-AP students and students on IEPs or Special Education students. Because at the time, CLP did not offer a pull-out class for Pre-AP, all teachers were required to differentiate instruction for all students. My Pre-AP students basically spent a great deal of time working on a small group project with the media specialist. They were doing a comparitive novel study of To Kill a Mockingbird and Cry the Beloved Country. They spent their reading time in The Pit, a comfortable area all students in the school covet. The other 9th grade teacher and I decided to try literary circles with the rest of our students. It would work better to group students by ability for this assignment. The benefits of ability grouping for this kind of assignment far outweigh heterogeneous grouping, because students fast readers could lose patience with students who could not keep up them in the group and could ultimately become frustrated and give up. The contrary coudl also be true. Students who are slow readers could feel left out and stop reading, or rely on their faster peers to do all the reading. Using MAPS and CSAP data seemed sensible to determine how students would be grouped. This data helped determine which students would read at the same pace. This information was NEVER shown to the students themselves. I would NEVER label a student or refer to a student using a label in class. Ability grouping enabled me to pace the lessons so that the faster students could have time for enrichment, and the slower readers could have time for support.

At the time of her blog, Ms Bergin had spent a total of two class sessions during which we did background studies on the novel. She wrote right after I had had a conversation with her supervisor about unsatisfactory conduct on her part in my classroom. Being a first time observer of a classroom, she also misread cues and did not fully understand the concept of Differentiated Instruction. Anyone who has ever read To Kill a Mockingbird with a group of 9th graders, knows that it's not a book that is received with any kind of enthusiasm until after the first 40 pages,perhaps not even then. Ms Bergin often arrived late, coffee cup in hand, parked herself on a desk with her feet on a chair in the back of the room, and observed my teaching.

As a teacher I have very high expectations for myself, my students, and PDS students assigned to me. I had two conversations about Miss Bergin's conduct in my classroom with her immediate supervisor. I expected her to interact with my students, take initiative in my classroom, and be there on time to collaborate with me in the morning. I never gave Miss Bergin permission to use my name in her report, or to publish her assignment in a public forum. Miss Bergin never sought my opinion as to why I used ability grouping for this assignment. I would have explained that I don't use ability grouping for every assignment or activity, and that I used this strategy to differentiate instruction for a multi-level classroom. Students conducted tutorials, group discussions and also a reader's theatre of the trial scene after Miss Bergin had finished her class with us.

I can only assume that Miss Bergin's intent in publishing her scathing observation and interpretation of my classroom as an attempt to retaliate against me for giving her a less than stellar evaluation. In the past three years I have cooperated in good faith with the Deptartment of Education at Colorado State University to avail their students with an opportunity to see someone who is passionate about teaching, and loves children in action and to ensure that future teachers got off to a good start. I believe that a good teacher can work miracles. I believe myself to be a good teacher who acts professionally in every way. I do not hold a grudge against Miss Bergin. I was once a student too. I thought I knew a whole lot more in college than I do now.

Miss Bergin, wherever you are, and whatever you are teaching, I hope you understand now what I was trying to show you about professionalism, punctuality, dress code, keeping your word, and developing relationships with students. If you have started learning just one of these essential qualities of a good teacher by now, then dragging my name through the mud, and expressing your anger has borne positive fruit. I should hope that you regret what you have done, but if not, I wish you well.

Carron R. Silva


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