Heterogeneous classes

Catherine Johnson at Kitchen Table Math posted a link to research about the long-term effects on children who are placed in mixed-ability classes far ahead of their level.

Years later, they are more likely to be depressed.

From Science News:

“We found that students in the first grade who struggled academically with core subjects, including reading and math, later displayed negative self-perceptions and symptoms of depression in sixth and seventh grade, respectively,” said Keith Herman, associate professor of education, school and counseling psychology in the [University of Missouri] College of Education. “Often, children with poor academic skills believe they have less influence on important outcomes in their life. Poor academic skills can influence how children view themselves as students and as social beings.”

Johnson cites Zig Engelmann on the misguided justification for placing children in classes too hard for them:

Rule 3: Always place students appropriately for more rapid mastery progress. This fact contradicts the belief that students are placed appropriately in a sequence if they have to struggle—scratch their head, make false starts, sigh, frown, gut it out. . . . The assumption seems to be that students will be strengthened if they are “challenged.”

This belief is flatly wrong. If students are placed appropriately, the work is relatively easy. Students tend to learn it without as much “struggle.” They tend to retain it better and they tend to apply it better, if they learn it with fewer mistakes.

Johnson’s been in the trenches.

If schools grouped kids homogeneously and used precision teaching or Direct Instruction, you wouldn’t see the less-talented kids developing depressions 5 years down the line. Even without precision teaching or Direct Instruction, you wouldn’t see depression. You wouldn’t see it because these kids wouldn’t be struggling. They’d be taught at their level, they’d be given the time they needed, and they’d learn.I think it’s time to look into the emotional costs of heterogeneous grouping.

Having lived through 3 years of my own child struggling through a class that was over his head, I can tell you that it’s not good for the child. Heterogeneous grouping is no picnic for the kids on the bottom.

And one of Johnson’s commenters sums it up:

Maybe there aren’t groupings that are effective for everyone, but the heterogeneous grouping seem to be bad for most.

It has been a disaster for my children. My oldest child has learned not to pay attention in class. She reads novels all day. My middle child has learned that children of a specific ethnic group are dumb. My youngest thinks that school is where you goof off with your friends.

I have also seen how awful the heterogeneous grouping is for my friend’s son with a learning disability. He sits in class all day struggling. He knows he is at the bottom of the class, and so do all the other kids. He is in the same classroom as my daughter who reads at a high school level. The teacher doesn’t have anywhere near the time to deal with both kids.

It is hard to see that there would a solution that is worse for the low and high kids than the current heterogeneous groupings.

About linsee

Linda Seebach retired in 2007 from the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, where she was an editorial writer and columnist.
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One Response to Heterogeneous classes

  1. Joakim says:

    It is important that this topic is highlighted. We destroy the childhoods and futures of children by the current egalitarian policies. I spent my childhood in a Procrustean bed where I was supposed to learn things I already mastered. It bereaved me of stimulus and opportunity and made me discontented and rebellious. The only good thing that came out of it was that I came to hate equality with a stronger passion than I might otherwise have done. The less clever children also suffered from having to play the roles of equals. I read the report about their problems with sympathy. Although we suffered in different ways, we were victims of the same ideology.

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