Monday, July 16, 2012

Core ideas to transform teaching so that all can learn; teaching without the demeaning use of ability grouping

Conditions can limit or encourage optimum growth

This is the fourth blog based on the book Teaching Without Limits based on the experiences of nine teachers teaching free of deterministic beliefs about ability.

 All the teachers involved had to work in an environment that will soon become commonplace for New Zealand teachers unless teachers make a stand – targets, an emphasis in literacy and numeracy, national testing and league tables.
In New Zealand, it is fair to say primary teachers do not see ability grouping as an issue but I believe in the long run it has destructive effect on the learning of those in the lower groups – contributing to the achievement tail of failing students and students who leave schooling  alienated from learning unable to read and write
All the teachers were guided by the belief in the transformability of learning. Through tasks and activities they provided, the learning contexts, their relationships with their students they were all seeking to enrich the learning opportunities to strengthen in all students the desire to learn.
The shared principles that evolved will all ring a bell with creative teachers were:

The importance of the impact of their teaching on their pupil’s emotions - that learning is determined by positive emotional wellbeing of individual learners.
Students need to feel positive about their learning – tasks need to make sense to them.
Feeling of competence, of success, and control of their learning is essential.
Classrooms need to be seen as a place where young people come because they find activities which they find engaging, interesting and enjoyable.
Positive student identities are gained through achievement not being judged by comparative ability
A guiding idea is the a view of young people’s future that is hopeful, open and in the making. Students need to appreciate their own growing learning power – that they can make a difference.
That learning depends on the support given by other students – learning is social.
Students need to feel a sense of belonging, acceptance and mutual - equal members in the learning community - all working towards shared goals. Relationships skills need to be developed.
Teachers need to be tough mined and passionate about intellectual life of the class.
All students need to feel success and engage in worthwhile learning - whether knowledge, understandings or skills.
Knowledge, understandings and skills are only powerful if they are relevant – learning is about making sense of the world- about making connections –able to transfer their learning in new contexts.
Teachers need to put a strong emphasis on the higher cognitive skills of explaining their thinking, their insights, their reasoning and their conclusions. Students need to develop a language for talking about their thinking – metacognition.

The above were the recurring themes expressed by the teachers and at first glance they seem to be the ones most teachers endorse but they are fundamentally incompatible with ability labelling. The teachers, by becoming aware of the limits of learning imposed by ability labelling, have gained greater insight about what needs to be done – or undone.
All teachers have a common belief in the power of transformability – that all can learn if the right conditions are in place.
They all believe that classroom conditions can change, and be changed to enrich and enhance learning and free learning from the limits ability grouping.
Power must be shared with students (co-agency) if students are to take full advantage of learning opportunities.
Choices must be made in the interests of everybody, that everybody must be equally respected and valued. That students ought not to see their classroom as divided into three groups with different needs.

All the above ideas contribute to a practical pedagogy that is informed by the belief in the transformability of the learning capacity of all students and in the process to bring about greater justice and fairness in education.
For me, all theabove, reflects the creative teaching that I have seen over the decades inprimary classrooms in New Zealand. Even though many of the teachers I have admired made use of ability grouping it was not the dominating feature as it is in classrooms today.
The whole issue of sorting and assessing students by ability is becoming dominant in classrooms today. Unlike the teachers in Learning Without Limits, teachers in New Zealand have not yet had to face up to national testing and league tables.
Such anti educational approaches are not far off – the time is now right if action is to be taken.


Anonymous said...

There is no doubt that the use of ablity grouping is unquestioned in primary schools.

Your recent blogs have made me think hard about the use - or misuse of them.

I guess that is a start?

The implemenation of National Standards will make such grouping even more important - or disasterous for the below average students!

Private Schools Australia said...

Teaching without limits is designed to be a helpful and immediately useful resource for teachers. I think the same that teachers need to be tough mined and passionate about intellectual life of the class.