Q: Next year my school is implementing “teaming.” What this means is that teachers at each grade level K-6 will have common planning time, which is great. Also, we will share students so that one teacher will have the highest level for reading and language arts, but the lowest level for math, for example. At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
On my team, my partner teacher thinks that it would be better if she just kept the high achieving kids for reading and language arts and math since she would get to know them better. Of course, I would then have the low achievers for both subjects. She is willing to mix students for social studies and science.
Truthfully, I like working with lower ability kids and I actually think I work better with them than she does, but I’m wondering if I should agree to this arrangement. If I change my mind later on, it could be a problem. Also, she thinks that I should also have all the learning disabled kids in my classroom so they can all receive extra help at the same time.
A: Here you have a great illustration of the problems of ability grouping in the elementary school. I do have a few thoughts. If your school has a push-in program for all the kids receiving extra services, it often works well to have clusters of kids in one classroom. That way the special education teacher can integrate her work with yours and the students can remain part of the general classroom (although some students may need pull-out as well). Of course, kids who are learning disabled may very well be in the high ability group as well.
I would not agree to your colleague’s suggestion that she work with the high achievers in both reading and math. (It’s hard to see how this arrangement is “teaming.”) Given that these subjects take up the bulk of the teaching day, what will develop is a 2-tiered system of instruction at each grade level, the brighter students in one tier and all the others in the lower tier for most of the day. There are many ways to deliver instruction (for example, whole group instruction with pre-teaching for challenged students and enrichment for gifted students). And students may be grouped to read the same book, but they do not have to be in the same group for writing and grammar.
All children deserve quality instruction, and it is not in their best interests to be sorted and selected like blueberries so early in life. And by the way, you may be better than she is working with lower achieving students, but maybe she'd be better with practice. And who's to say you wouldn't be better working with high achieving kids as well?