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

New to Edchat?

If you have never participated in an #Edchat discussion, these take place twice a day every Tuesday on Twitter. Over 1,000 educators participate in this discussion by just adding #edchat to their tweets. For tips on participating in the discussion, please check out these posts!

More Edchat


If you’re new to hashtag discussions, then just show up on Twitter on any Tuesday and add just a few tweets on the topic with the hashtag #edchat. 

What do you think? Leave a comment!

June 7, 2011

What additions or changes can colleges make to better prepare teacher?

#Edchat 05 – 31 – 2011 – 18:00 CET 12 PM EST

This #edchat topic was a very interesting one. There seemed to be many different experiences among the group. The summary has been expertly prepared by Michael Zimmer (@MZimmer557) and he has brought together all the threads into a great digest of all the thoughts. As he explains here our world today is somewhat different from the one many of us trained for. Thank you for a great post Michael. You can find out more about Michael in his bio at the end of the post.

Having missed the passed few #edchats because of other obligations, it appeared that I returned for a thought-provoking discussion about teacher education programs.  My personal experiences were mixed.  I had several good professors and several others who obviously were out of touch with what education was like in the 90’s and now in the 21st Century.  Education is constantly going through various reforms, especially lately, yet little emphasis in those reforms has focused on teacher education programs.  Are they working?  Most educators have heard the statistic that half of the new teachers leave the profession within the first 5 years.  If that is the case, then shouldn’t there be a focus on those that are preparing teachers for the workplace?  If teacher education programs are properly preparing students for the classroom this statistic would not be so staggering.   

    Another issue facing teacher education programs is preparing teachers to teach in the 21st century and prepare teachers to use educational technology.  In my personal experiences in teacher preparation there were two things that were constantly emphasized: My Philosophy of Education and Creating Lesson Plans, which is something over time that has had little impact on my actual teaching.  Beneficial classes would have been how to integrate and use technology with students.  Teacher education programs need to hire professors that are knowledgeable about this technology and how to use it.

    When I look back, it is interesting to me that my teacher education program was about 24-30 hours of course work, but my content area was 3-4 times as much.  If teaching is the primary goal at graduation from college, shouldn’t there be an equal amount of classes.  It is apparent that all that content knowledge won’t help teachers if they don’t get a quality education on how to be a great teacher.  During student teaching we would return to campus and meet with groups of other student teachers.  There was always stuff planned for us.  It would have been more beneficial for us to communicate with each other our experiences. 

Here are some of the main themes from the discussion: 

  • More in class time with students and teachers.  There needs to be more interaction between college students in teacher education with teachers and students in the schools
  • More classes related to learning how to use technology as an engagement tool.
  • To much focus on methodology and theories and not enough focus on real world teaching
  • More mentoring among teachers and professors
  • More opportunities for teachers to get into the classroom while in the teacher education program
  • Professors need to go back to the classroom so they are not out of the loop on what is going on in the classroom
  • More focus on why they teach the content, not necessarily what they content is
  • Teacher preparation needs to include more about classroom management, dealing with parents, the extras duties that come with the job, special education, and school law
  • More emphasis on what it means to teach in the 21st century

Here is a selection of some of the comments: 

With such a vibrant discussion, it’s almost impossible to do it justice in a summary, but I’ve picked out some of the comments that caught my eye.
@CTuckerEnglish: I felt really prepared for teaching, but not for teaching in an increasingly digital society.
@davidwees: Every teacher’s college should spend some time talking alternative education systems. (especially in the 21st century)
@maryannesacco: More time with practical in-class experiences with cooperating teacher–PT conferences, lesson planning, teacher pd meetings
@teachersnet: It can’t be repeated too often: pre-teaching programs must include more classroom management training
@stumpteacher: IMO teacher ed programs I have been in and worked with miss the boat. Teaching kids how to teach 30-50 years ago. Not current.
@iteach4change: teacher ed programs need more on tech, special needs, and politics/finance of education; also more on culturally responsive teaching
@davidwees: Teacher education systems should spend time focusing on building people who expect to learn continuously, rather than sporadically
@kegluskin I had many field placements in different grades &urban & suburban environments which helped me feel comfortable in all settings
@cybraryman1 Yes teachers should be prepared for all different types of learners
@ericjuli Teacher Ed programs should teach high school teachers to believe they teach kids first, not content
@Tina_Barr: More mentoring in the classroom as part of the college curriculum could prove effective
@davidwees: If our classrooms are supposed to be student centred, so too should our teacher colleges.
@tomwhitby: teacher prep might improve if cooperating teachers were trained as to what to do w/student teachers.
@ShellTerrell: Teacher Ed programs should have a course designed on effective communication w/ parents, admin, students! Not enough comm in edu
@davidwees: How many teacher colleges invite alumni back to talk about their experiences? Share their ideas?
@MZimmer557: Allow more teachers with Master’s in education and administration to teach the courses…not professors far removed from classroom
@Whtevri4c: Faculty should go back to the classroom for a semester every three years to stay current.
@tomwhitby: College classes can make good teachers. Great teachers are made from their own classes
@davidwees: Idea: 1 year of preparation followed by 1 year of teaching, followed by a summer (at least) back in teacher college.
@txlibraryguy: Tech skills, theory and practice are great, but young teachers need confidence and coping skills or they won’t stay in profession.
 @chrisemdin: Teacher prep is missing metacognitive reflection. Teachers must learn to think about how & why they teach the way they do

To follow the complete discussion see here 

For the stats on #edchat participation see here 

 As ever, there were some great links shared:




http://mbfxc.wordpress.com/2011/05/17/i-am-change /

http://wrightslaw.com /

– @mbfxc:  http://t.co/V1csZ63  #edchat

My name is Michael Zimmer (@MZimmer557) and I am currently a Technology Integration Specialist in a school district in Kentucky.  I will be returning to the classroom next school year to teach Social Studies and am looking forward to using and integrating several of the things I have learned since using Twitter professionally.  I also write the blog: The Pursuit of Technology Integration Happiness


New to Edchat?

If you have never participated in an #Edchat discussion, these take place twice a day every Tuesday on Twitter. Over 400 educators participate in this discussion by just adding #edchat to their tweets. For tips on participating in the discussion, please check out these posts!

More Edchat


If you’re new to hashtag discussions, then just show up on Twitter on any Tuesday and add just a few tweets on the topic with the hashtag #edchat. 

What do you think? Leave a comment!

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