To Track or Not to Track? Outcomes of Serving All Students in the Same Classroom

Teaching (2)

Today is the first post in a short series about some of my favorite current and past colleagues reflecting on this past year’s teaching experiences. This first entry comes from Dr. Taylor Cross who shares insights gained from his recent research.

By Dr. Taylor Cross

“When I was in high school growing up in the northeast Georgia mountains, I was in ‘honors’ or “accelerated” classes. I didn’t put myself there; it just happened…. Who I mostly did not have classes with were the students whose parents were the hourly blue collar workers, most of which had not gone to college, and some who had no real concept of what a college education would look like.”

When I was in high school growing up in the northeast Georgia mountains, I was in “honors” or “accelerated” classes. I didn’t put myself there; it just happened. I don’t think at the time I really processed what that meant or why I was in those classes, but I knew generally that I was “smart” and that the other kids in my classes were also “smart”. In these classes the other kids were, for the most part, other kids whose parents went to college, like mine did. Their parents were the lawyers, business-owners, realtors, medical professionals, educators, etc., that kept our little town churning along. Most of these kids’ families weren’t originally from this small town, but had found their way to it by virtue of job placements.

Who I mostly did not have classes with were the students whose parents were the hourly blue collar workers, most of which had not gone to college, and some who had no real concept of what a college education would look like. The majority of these students’ families had lived in this area for generations, and the culture of many of them was native Appalachian. I was “sheltered” from these students because as a student who had shown academic promise, I was lumped with others like me. As a matter of fact, when I look back in my high school yearbook, I don’t recognize about half of the students I see because I never had classes with them, even though my school was very small.

This was my high school education experience. I was put in classes with other kids “like” me because it was perceived that putting us together would benefit us, and having the kids who were “unlike” us together would be right for them. This is also what the majority of schools across America do today with their core subjects to a large degree. They track their gifted and talented students together, and they group their average and struggling students together. Is this good? Is it a problem? Do these situations truly benefit the students who are separated from one another? These are complicated questions for which the answers can vary from context to context. Continue reading

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Abstraction: The Art of Ideas, Media, and Text

Film_43w_LordOfFlies_original

So my gifted students have been reading through Lord of the Flies (LOTF)–the classic distopian novel that reveals and comments on man’s bestial nature through the lens of a plane-wreaked group of British school boys. We’re nearly finished with reading, discussing, and discovering the novel together, but before we do I thought it best have my students practice the art of abstraction, or as I tend to define it, the ability of taking almost any abstract or indirect idea and marry it somehow to text or other media. Continue reading

“Ruled Paper”

When I first began teaching, I told myself that I never wanted to teach gifted courses. Today–and really for quite awhile now–I see how naive that thought process was. I had at one time convinced myself that I would become exhausted by students claiming they already knew everything and they would be unteachable, but the truth has been far different. The truth is gifted students are truly extraordinary and my initial disdain was out of ill begot notions that reflected my own insecurity as a teacher. But today a few of my gifted students put a beautiful, genuine smile on my face yet again.

I had the classes reflect on the quote that Bradbury places at the beginning of his classic novel Fahrenheit 451 by Juan Ramon Jimenez–“If they give you ruled lines, write the other way.” Below are a few of the papers I received back from them:

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Beautiful, isn’t it?