Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

June 14, 2011

What advantages could be gained by using criteria other than age to group kids in classes?

#Edchat 06 – 08 – 2011 – 18:00 CET 12 PM EST

Thank you to Pam Wesely (@pamwesely) for this summary on what turned out to be a very interesting chat. There were many ideas and many reservations too which all made for a very thought-provoking discussion. Pam has captured all of this to great effect in this summary. Thank you Pam for a great roundup of the ideas and themes and a thoughtful commentary on the topic. Find out more about Pam in her bio at the end of the post.

The participants in this #edchat talk all heartily agreed that grouping kids by criteria other than age has been under explored in current educational practices.  We were able to identify an array of positives to grouping by things other than age, often focusing on the ability to individualize instruction and encourage peer-to-peer mentoring and cooperation more effectively.
    Beyond this response to the initial prompt, participants in this #edchat discussion addressed several other related topics, notably: WHAT CRITERIA the alternate groupings would have, WHAT SCOPE the alternate groupings would have, WHICH LEVELS of students are grouped by age (and which should be), and WHY we currently group students by age.  As I tend to be more conservative in the #edchat discussions, I was pleased to see participants even offer reasons why this grouping does make sense in some cases.  
    Upon reflection, I see lots of areas where educators can expand on this discussion, notably in including and considering other stakeholders in education; developing the notion of groupings that vary throughout one child’s day; and considering the ways that peer mentoring can become more a part of classroom practice.

Here are some of the main themes from the discussion: 

  • Decisions about promotion that completely disregarded age (as @LHoog eloquently put it, putting the «child genius who’s 8 with 14-year-olds”) was not seen as preferable.  Participants still felt for the most part that age (or developmental level) needed to be considered in grouping students.
  • Participants shared personal experiences about observing older and younger students working together – both well and not-so-well.
  • Types of alternate grouping suggested included interest/project grouping, ability grouping, mastery grouping, achievement grouping, and grouping in peer-mentor relationships.
  • Perhaps the most common rhetorical flourishes critiquing age grouping were references to non-school-based contexts – the idea that «ages are mixed up in X context, why do we force such an unnatural grouping in schools!» with X context being playgrounds, adult workplaces, sports teams, etc.
  • Where some participants thought that avoiding age grouping would help students find like-minded allies of any age, others argued that the academically adept but socially underdeveloped would suffer if advancement were based on academic criteria.  
  • An important point of contention that emerged at the end of the discussion involved how, exactly, teachers would decide how students would advance to the next level, if not somehow by age.

Here is a selection of some of the comments: 

 @nancyrubin: Group stronger academic students with those that need a little more help for peer mentoring opportunities.
@MertonTech: The biggest issue is that academic maturity and social maturity are not always the same.
@USCTeacher: Many factors could be used to categorize students: age, gender, economic standing, performance – how are we to determine what is fair or works?
@tomwhitby: If age was not an issue, social promotion or non-promotion would not be one either.
@darcymullin: Multi-aged groupings (or other methods) also force us to look at our pedagogy and re-think what and how we deliver instruction.
@QZLPatriotHawk: This is not a one-size-fits-all debate. I believe you have to look at the students as individuals. Schooling is so much more than about academics.
@CTuckerEnglish: Maturity can be an issue, but there’s value in having older kids lead, support & guide younger students.
@rliberni: I think the older kids also learn from the younger ones – re-igniting their curiosity.
@JasonFlom: I think there need to be opportunities for ages to mix, regularly, but social development is so key early on.
@ShellTerrell: I’d like to see parents, students, & teachers collaborate in placing the student.
@karimderrick: We should also not group by subject….but instead by project! How great would that be!!
@tomwhitby: Ability should be a part of it but too much emphasis on any component will affect the result. Balance is the key.

@coreydahlevent: Is the question about age or ability, or is it about TEACHERS allowing or NOT allowing extended learning?
@karimderrick: Mixed-age groups would ultimately be more natural – same age groups is a product of factory schooling.
@Sam_EnglishEd: In mentoring group, 17-yr-old to me: “I don’t want to be with these little KIDS.” These KIDS were 14-15. Complaint often heard.
@BrandiJClark: Focus on the learning, not the sifting and sorting.
@malcolmbellamy: We mature at different rates, and not according to the year we were born.
@mrmadden77: I’m still concerned with ability grouping – worried that focus will become too much about curriculum, not enough about the child.

@JohnMikulski: For ability grouping to be successful, there has to be fluid movement from one group to next when student shows improvement.
@JasonFlom: “Fluid movement” for a teacher is one thing. “Fluid movement” for students in social groups is another.

To follow the complete discussion see here  
For the stats on #edchat participation see here 

As ever, there were some great links shared:

@NextGenLC:  What’s been your experiences with programs like this? “Some schools grouping students by skill, not grade level” http://ow.ly/5caH4  #edchat
@NextGenLC:  @pamwesely This #edchat has me thinking about Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’ argument about cutoff dates for kindergarten http://ow.ly/5cbf0

@NextGenLC: @brandiheinz Me too. Just found this post about the “Outliers” argument: http://ow.ly/5cbqX  #edchat

@allisonletts: the Changing Ed Paradigms Video by @sirkenrobinson http://ow.ly/5bgEa  #edchat

@davidwees: Here’s a study about pros and cons of older/younger sibling pairs. Some good stuff, some not so good. http://bit.ly/iHBGZ1  #edchat

@nancyrubin: Collaborative Learning: Group and Teams in the Classroom http://t.co/yAndKbk   #edchat

@karimderrick: Assess perf in proj orientated groups NOT using criteria – but comparative judgement http://bit.ly/dP6O8E  Bye, bye stand tests #edchat

@darcymullin: @JasonFlom check out this awesome school in Aus. Very cool http://bit.ly/lefZ72  #edchat

@pamwesely: @rliberni That’s true after I tweeted that I remembered this great film abt a 1-rm school – Etre et Avoir http://imdb.to/8r71Rt  #edchat

@ToughLoveforX: @WendyGorton @ShellTerrell Crowdsourcing Authority in the Classroom http://ilnk.me/8d36  by @catinstack

@mister_jim: #edchat sorry, a bit behind but aren’t we missing the point? Teachers enable learning situations. Shouldn’… (cont) http://deck.ly/~kiq6j

@irasocol: http://www.fsd.k12.ca.us/menus/k8/addmat.pdf   #edchat the K-8 advantage

@irasocol: Philadelphia K-8 analysis http://www.csos.jhu.edu/new/Comparing%20Achievement.pdf  #edchat

@johnpassantino:  Students progress at own pace: Adams County District Standards-based Education model http://bit.ly/lO5ut3  #edchat

@tomwhitby: My latest Post dealing with Filters, Bans & AUP’s: “How do we fit the policy to the need?” http://nblo.gs/iM77n   #Edchat


Pam Wesely is an Assistant Professor of Foreign Language and English as a Second Language Education at the University of Iowa. She teaches teachers and people who want to research education.  Her research interests include K-12 student, teacher, and parent beliefs about foreign language education.  She also harbors a growing interest in how teachers use Web 2.0 tools to connect and teach their students.  She is a former middle school French teacher and Concordia Language Villages counselor/administrator.  You can see her professional website at: http://sites.google.com/site/pamelawesely

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