Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

July 22, 2010

Is too much emphasis placed on low and high achieving students?


7-20-2010 – 18:00 CET 12 PM EST

Matthias Heil (@MatthiasHeil) is the producer of this week’s mammoth edchat summary! It’s an amazing piece of work and if you were there you know that it was a marathon – one of the most exciting #edchats yet! Matthias’s summary really catches the energy that we all felt during Tuesday’s session and the passion about teaching and learning and the importance of getting it right that came over so strongly is really captured here. (See Matthias’s bio at the end of the piece.)

Yesterday’s first #edchat session (1800 CET, 12PM EDT) turned out to be a much better experience for me than the previous ones – maybe because what we discussed really touches upon the heart of what educators are doing every day, willing or not. The way we deal with our ideals, curricula, prescribed and self-developed forms of assessment, and of course our own power and influence in the classroom, all this significantly determines our professional aim, and our contribution to our learners’ lives and development.

Following the first part of the discussion was especially fascinating for me because – teaching at a German Secondary School – my conception of “low achieving” must differ from the one of those teaching in countries that care not to generally make the first four years of school the basis of a young person’s long-term career chances (i.e. the rest of the world).

Consequently, the controversy over labeling students “low/middle/high achievers” – the first major theme of yesterday’s #edchat – struck a special note as in many contributions political, ethical and anthropological aspects mixed with brief reflections on the (sometimes all-too-careless) ease of seemingly simple and superficial everyday decisions and assessments that serve to establish how “well” students meet their teachers’ (and their own) expectations. All of this comes together in the vision we share of what we are aiming at, and of course in our understanding of ourselves as professional instructors, pedagogues and partners in learning. 

Interestingly, some edchatters seem to show great reservation towards labeling students at all, whereas others state assessment is paramount to finding out how to let learners shine, respectively how to detect and develop their talents as well as possible in the face of other classroom requirements. Both defining terms like “labeling” and “assess” and explaining routines and strategies entailed in flexible and learner-friendly ways helped clearing inevitable misunderstanding in many dialogues and trialogues that ensued in this second major part of our discussion. Many participants feel very strongly about this theme, and, to my mind, especially this part revealed the weakness of the 140 characters conversational format #edchat is currently taking. A Wiki- or Wave-like format may have encouraged a calmer communication atmosphere and an even more satisfying exchange of experiences.

Although classes are more homogenous than elsewhere, even at a German “Gymnasium”, i.e. in a terminally selective educational system there are also “low achieving” students that require much more attention and supervision than others. Therefore, my initial answer to the session’s main question was “Yes, and how could it be otherwise?”. Yesterday’s session, however, also served as a treasure chest of ideas and concepts facilitating ways of teaching to the advantage of all students, not only those easily passing or terribly failing a more or less oblique-angled framework of objectives. To name but a few of those ways that triggered discussion, there are differentiation, “feedforward”, collaboration, portfolios, critical thinking, blogging, ULD and many more (see “Part 3” comments and link sections for more).

All in all, this #edchat provided a perfect mix of everything that makes it so valuable: expertise, criticism, commitment, anger, introspection, idealism, frustration, creativity, dilemma, hope, ideas and a refreshing portion of humour in countless contributions.

 Thanks, PLE!

 Here are some of the main themes from the discussion: 

Are we, by focussing on high and low achieving learners, neglecting those “in the middle”? As mentioned above, instead of producing simple answers to the given question, contributions mainly dealt with three themes:

  •  Is it fair to label students?
  • What is our assessment’s objective?
  • How can we motivate all learners?

Here is a selection of some of the comments: 

There was so much wisdom and wit in this #edchat session!

a) Part 1: Is it fair to label students?

@paulawhite – We’re not neglecting teaching middle children – we’re neglecting teaching ALL children well.
@sguditus – It’s easy to forget that when we teach to a particular niche that usually those techniques are good for ALL learners.
@paulawhite – Our expectations for all children are WAY below what they can do—and DO outside of school pursuing their own interests/passions
@mrdfleming – The question should be “am I giving each student what they need?” Sure low students will require more time, because they need more
@cybraryman1 – We cannot overlook any of the students that we teach. DI should be employed: http://bit.ly/bOWv96
@theprofspage – Middle kids are not failing but not being challenged. Students with Bs or Cs. No discipline problems.
@malcolmbellamy – the minute we talk about “middle” we are labelling
@paulawhite – children have passions – we need to find those and allow ALL students to use their strengths.
@discomfortzone – Is the current curriculum the reason why we put people on a scale from low to high achievers? Who is it we compare the learners to?
@rliberni – Does the drive for tangible results stop us seeing students/children as individuals?
@davidwees – I hate thinking of kids as being “low”, “middle” or “high”. Kids will meet expectations.
@flourishingkids – We need to help kids discover own passions 4 learning & get them out of thinking it only occurs at school.
@davidwees – Would you want the teacher of your kid to tell you that your kid is “just average”? Are they average to you?
@flourishingkids – One problem is that kids often learn at own pace/ timetables. School is rigid. Kids are, flexible and fluid.
@Room5Friends – @4thGrdTeach Exactly my point. No matter how you “rank” them, it’s subjective, so why rank them? Why label them?
@discomfortzone – In Germany we put low achiv. into “Hauptschule”; middle into “Realschule” and high into “Gymnasium” after FOUR yrs of elem. SAD.
@malcolmbellamy – We need to allow children the freedom to learn not the straightjacket of setting by our expectations.
@suedensmore: Why do we have to rank them at all? Shouldn’t properly designed rubrics help prevent ranking?
@gericoats – I don’t think all kids should be sorted, however, when there is a drastic difference in ability between peers it should be addressed
@findingdulcinea – Labeling is convenient for schools/teachers, harmful to kids. RT @EricBurgess Labeling kids is destructive, I think.
@MissCheska – @STEDISub I think labeling leads to self-fulfilling prophecies. If we can instill self-confidence in our stdts, then yes
@web20classroom – Just thinking that kids are all different. Thinking maybe there isn’t really a middle anymore…

 b) Part 2: What is our assessment’s objective?

@davidwees – All students deserve the opportunity to demonstrate what they KNOW, instead of what they do NOT know.
@ColinTGraham – I also feel a great many ‘results’ are normalized, statistically, so 60% always get a B/C, 5% A+ etc. Rather than having absolutes.
@theprofspage – The truth is we need to measure kids based on their individual improvements and achievements.
@davidwees – Grades are not meant to assess what kids know, they are meant to show that they know MORE than someone else.
@sguditus – Grades: should they be a reflection of exceptional output or exceptional growth?
@teachingwthsoul – Communication of progress is key! RT @4thGrdTeach: @gericoats Agreed, all parents deserve to know how their kid is doing truthfully.
@BrandiJClark – We place glass ceilings on grade levels, can’t go beyond them (note sarcasm)
@davidwees – At the end of the day, our education system is premised on the idea that competition between kids is healthy…
@baldy7 – If we individualize and customize, why does it matter whether a student is “low” or “high”?
@davidwees – Let’s grade teachers like we grade students. We’ll call it “performance based pay.” Teachers will love it!
@paulawhite – @sguditus follow the three ps of grading–progress, performance, process http://tzstchr.edublogs.org/2010/01/26/gradefog/
@davidwees – The objective of grading should be to demonstrate kids competencies not their relative weaknesses.
@baldy7 – The problem with this whole discussion is that our labels are based on arbitrary, meaningless assessments.
@theprofspage – @suedensmore How do you measure mastery?
@4thGrdTeach – Grading should be used as a map for future learning not as a map for past failures.
@mrdfleming – @davidwees but doesn’t knowing their weaknesses along with competencies help us to teach?
@davidwees – A number based grading system leads to ranking students, which leads to discussion of ability instead of successes.
@davidwees – @mrdfleming Yeah exactly. Let’s measure students against themselves using rubrics or similar system.
@paulawhite – @gericoats assessment is absolutely crucial to know what a kid needs.
@4thGrdTeach – Grades are just a measure of how much homework was done and whether I liked it or not, not their learning
@discomfortzone – We also need to remember to assess properly! Authentic assessment, not multiple choice exams!! Then we get to know students.
@davidwees – @celfoster We use the MYP grading system for 6-10, which (to me) closely resembles mastery style assessment.

 c) Part 3: How can we motivate all learners?  

@sguditus – We forget that middle kids – in whatever sense – still improve and grow. We need to celebrate mini-benchmarks with all kids.
@discomfortzone – @BrandiJClark Agreed! Open learning, rotations, inquiry, transdisciplinary learning (IBPYP). Developmental scope and seq., too.
@4thGrdTeach – If we set up support in our room and teach students to help each other we will see the labels blur.
@flourishingkids – Cooperative learning & shifting roles in projects helps all learners grow when done right. Kids learn 2 appreciate each other.
@sguditus – We need to individualize student goals to make learning and expectations relevant and authentic.
@4thGrdTeach – To increase student engagement you must know your student, the way they learn and what their strengths are.
@sguditus – Schools today do not systemically provide forums for students to reflect on learning, revamp strategies, and celebrate victories.
@stevebarkley – @averyteach I use this thought: Effort times Ability focused on a Manageable Task equals Success.
@crystalmgrand – @MissCheska I’ve found student blogging is effective b/c they can share their thoughts to the public and receive feedback.
@4thGrdTeach – So is the answer differentiation as always?
@2footgiraffe – It’s been said many times today. It is all about passions. If they can learn by their skills and passion potential is endless.
@sguditus – Should schools reward high-achievers for performance and/or celebrate growth for all? #edchat
@BrandiJClark: Schools are operating with 21st Century tools, 21st century kids, 20th century content in 19th century classrooms.
@averyteach – Differentiation helps with individualization AND can allow students to steer their own learning – doesn’t have to be teacher driven.
@2footgiraffe – How do we blend passion and state curriculum?
@baldy7 – If school is meaningless and irrelevant, why should any kid be a high achieving student?
@MrTRice_Science – ePortfolios are a great way for kids to demonstrate meeting their learning goals.
@4thGrdTeach – @sguditus celebrate growth for all #edchat
@malcolmbellamy – Develop skills of cooperation and collaboration where children can support each other not sit in rigid groupings with walls around
@rliberni – What does ‘gifted’ mean? All kids have talents we just need to find them.
@averyteach – High expectations with differentiation should engage all students-the other key is having strong relationships w/students!
@BrandiJClark – RT @4thGrdTeach: so is the answer differentiation as always? – I think the structure of the day and blended classrooms is also a must
@baldy7 – @rliberni I wrote about “gifted” last week. #edchat http://ow.ly/2e1V1
@STEDISub – What do you think would happen if we treated all students like they were exceptional learners? Would they all become exceptional?
@cybraryman1 – The good teacher makes the poor student good & the good student superior. ~Marva Collins
@suedensmore – We need to double our teaching staffs and half the class sizes. Would likely solve much of the problem. Haha.
@sguditus – @averyteach Some teachers feel that time constraints prevent proper differentiation. Is embedded collaboration/PLCs the answer?
@stangea – @johntspencer Social Voice link http://bit.ly/cL0DwR is good. I’d love more examples of strong student-centered blogging
@suedensmore – Kids tend to rise to the expectations we have for them if we are consistent and positive about them. At least in my experience.
@miltrehberg – @sguditus We need to teach more meta cognition, give students the opportunity to reflect on their learning , try many strategies. 
@4thGrdTeach – Doesn’t differentiation seem to be the buzzword nowadays?
@BrandiJClark – Our job is to make students expert learners through multiple means of representation, expression and engagment #UDL
@discomfortzone – @raysadad @4thGrdTeach: Feedforward and not just feedback, yes, but numbers (grades) don’t provide much info for improvement
@smitha834 – When I’ve had students generate rubrics – THAT’s when I’ve had gifted students differentiate themselves
@flourishingkids – Raising the bar 4 all kids&getting them excited about passions/interests will lead to growth for all. We can do this at earlier age.
@edtechdhh – IEPs for all students. Learning should be individual. Acknowledge and reward ind growth
@mrdfleming – @celfoster I focus more on giving students individual goals for improvement, based on rubrics. Then I share these goals with Ss
@LesLinks – Somtimes if it’s hard to differentiate every day, having a, say, ‘Math Monday’, on which every subject is taught through fun Math activities…
@Room5Friends: But Differentiation can be as easy as asking diff. students diff. questions about the same topic, not as hard as we make it seem…
@sguditus: We need educators to be honest with themselves about what’s working and what isn’t – culture of trust is a necessity.
@Begabungs – Some teachers just teach how to copy and not how to think out of the box
@crystalmgrand – @bf_teach4change Using Web 2.0 tools that students are familiar with may engage them and want to continue learning
@edtechdhh: IEPs for all students. Learning should be individual. Acknowledge and reward ind growth – YES
@smitha834 – @ColinTGraham I see blogs as the portfolios of the 21st century; personal and portable.
@crystalmgrand – @rliberni Keep learning current. Perhaps change learning to digital. Incorporate tools they use everyday in the class
@plnaugle – We labeled students on brink of next achievement level as ‘bumpables” and then worked to bump them up.
@2footgiraffe – @rliberni I hope to do videos, posters, podcasts, sculptures, books, and many other projects this year with that purpose in mind.
@BrandiJClark – We need to see that classrooms have many “little” teachers
@KTVee – learning has to come from questioning, investigation, curiosity, and collaboration; not from textbook chapters
@teachingwthsoul – Such a key ingredient!~>RT @EducateGlobally: Remember: You never stop learning. Especially when you’re teaching.
@onewheeljoe – Rubrics can work if they trend toward descriptive rather than evaluative.
@EducateGlobally – @paulawhite @raysadad @BrandiJClark Let them see the world. Digitally, physically, emotionally.
@2footgiraffe – teacher @ my skool put students into groups of math level and they taught themselves the whole year (with a little guidance)
@MissCheska – @rliberni Choice is very empowering for students!

To follow the complete discussion see here 

For the stats on #edchat participation see here 

 As ever, there were some great links shared:

@paulawhite – 5 levels of giftedness (http://www.educationaloptions.com/resources/GiftedorHighlyGifted.htm) Schools don’t reach the top levels.
@joe_bower – For the love of learning: Slave to the grades: http://bit.ly/9iYqM1
@paulawhite – @DeborahMersino http://www.educationaloptions.com
@paulawhite – @ktenkely Social & Emotional Issues: What Gifted Adults Say About Their Childhoods http://tuinyurl.com/29vjzr8
@paulawhite – @sguditus follow the three ps of grading–progress, performance, process http://tzstchr.edublogs.org/2010/01/26/gradefog/
@markbarnes19 – Powerful blog and excellent Alan November video: Moving Beyond Adequate – Kyle B. Pace http://ow.ly/2e1JL
@paulawhite – TWICE exceptional: http://tinyurl.com
@discomfortzone – The worst kind of sorting: http://bit.ly/8ZdtFV
@DeborahMersino – Has anyone read “Your Child’s Strengths” by @jeniferfox? http://www.strengthsmovement.com/ Powerful approach – all levels.
@baldy7 – @rliberni I wrote about “gifted” last week. #edchat http://ow.ly/2e1V1
@paulawhite – Shows how rewards of all sorts undermine our efforts to teach students, manage workers, and raise children: 
@paulawhite – Punished by Rewards: The Trouble with Gold Stars, Incentive Plans, A’s, Praise, and Other Bribes by Alfie Kohn
@ColinTGraham – @4thGrdTeach The CEFR is set out here. aussi en francais. http://www.coe.int/t/dg4/linguistic/cadre_en.asp
@jofrei: Is it a cheetah by Stephanie Tolan http://www.stephanietolan.com/is_it_a_cheetah.htm
@bhsprincipal – I think this post from @baldy7 is spot on in regards to this conversation http://bit.ly/a7ZcMN
@crystalmgrand – Ten Steps to Better Student Engagement via @edutopia http://ht.ly/2e2vH
@Nunavut_Teacher – The Trouble with Rubrics By Alfie Kohn http://bit.ly/18Nkjq
@briankotts – Unwrapping the Gifted – not-so-rosy side of being gifted http://bit.ly/9SLr3c
@jofrei – @sguditus Dive into differentiation http://www.giftedresources.org/gr/files/dive02.ppt
@paulawhite – Read # 4, 9, 19 about middle kids Distinguishing myths from realities: http://tinyurl.com/GTmyths
@Room5Friends – Labels, Be Gone… http://mlkolis.blogspot.com
@min_d_j: #UDL guidelines aren’t a prescription — they’re a framework. http://bit.ly/cA3akJ

@MatthiasHeil, teacher (English and Religious Education) and teacher trainer (Media, Methods) from Fulda, Germany.

Blog: http://www.MatthiasHeil.de, E-Mail: Webmaster@MatthiasHeil.de, CV: http://matthiasheil.de/personliches/curriculum-vitae/


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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Shelly S Terrell, Berni Wall and Eye On Education, Joan Young . Joan Young said: Great #edchat &wonderful summary by @MatthiasHeil on" Is too much emphasis placed on low&high ach. students?" http://wp.me/ptGdh-yg […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Is too much emphasis placed on low and high achieving students? « Rliberni's Blog – Radical language -- Topsy.com — July 22, 2010 @ 6:05 pm | Reply

  2. Wow, Matthias – this is a great edchat summary – thank you so much for wrapping it all up as I can’t take part in them (conflicting schedules) but always enjoy my trip over to see what everyone’s thoughts were. Seth Godin, talks about these issues in Linchpins and Small is the new big and his theory is that school was designed to create factory workers and those who would manage them.

    Now that the industrial age is slowly coming to a close, it’s time for us to rethink the workers of tomorrow and gear our educational towards bringing out the skills we will really be needing quite soon.

    Thanks again,

    Comment by kalinagoenglish — July 23, 2010 @ 8:28 am | Reply

    • Karenne, I hope you’ll manage to join #edchat more often in the future – your input will be very welcome by many! – As for factory workers and those who manage them… well, sadly there’s some truth in that, still. And this is one of the more important reasons why we need to unite, develop visions and strategies to contribute to our learners’ lives in a more meaningful way than we used to. Although it is vital to be creative, strong and passionate, we mustn’t do without careful consideration as what we can agree on seems rather vague at times, and rightly so: How can we seriously assume to know what exactly will be expected from young adults in a few years’ time? On the other hand, however, we should stop whining and get going, for there seems to be a growing number of skills and mind sets educators are identifying as vital for the next generations… – Thanks again for your friendly & instructive words!

      Comment by Matthias Heil — July 23, 2010 @ 11:57 pm | Reply

  3. Great summary; this was such an exciting edchat. I ended up writing about it right away since it was such an inspiring conversation http://mrspripp.blogspot.com/2010/07/stand-up-if-you-are-averageanyone.html

    Comment by Pernille Ripp — July 28, 2010 @ 12:25 pm | Reply

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