What was it like at your school?

Were you a smart kid? Were the classes streamed/graded or mixed ability or some combination of both? How did your teachers teach, engage and stimulate interest in the topic or activities? What was the best thing about the way you were taught at school? What was the worst? Was student welfare evident? 

If you are an educator, what is it like at the school you work at now? Different? Pretty similiar?

Schools play a large part in the construction of student idenit(ies). The way a school organises the students and the programs that are emphasised say a lot about what is valued. Teachers have often preferred streamed/graded classes as there is a perception that it makes lesson preparation easier, especially for traditional teacher-centred lessons. The impact on student motivation and self-esteem of being graded into a ‘bottom’ class is often profound.

Personally, I have few ‘mountains to die on’ but the notion that 11-12 year olds enter a high school and a factory sorting system ‘ranks’ them borders on abhorrent. I was pleased to read that the NSW Board of Studies recommends phasing out the streaming of students according to their ability, citing research that says it has little effect on achievement – even in Maths.

Constructivist notions of education and the impact of technology increasingly allow for individualised intruction and educators need to develop more sophisticated approaches to managing learning in classes. Creating the conditions and opportunity in the class for students to take responsibility for their learning is key. What do we value? Self-motivated students engaging in rich, relevant curriculum with appropriate use of technologies with a skilful facilitator of these conditions would seem about right. Another mountain?

DET, prodded by the NSW Teachers Federation has an important role in creating the conditions that transform our places of education into relevant, 21st century learning spaces with appropriate levels of funding, organisation and leadership. I particularly like the ’21st Century Conditions for 21st Century Learning’ conference theme posted at the NSWTF site but wonder what is meant by ‘preferential upskilling’?

However, as wheels slowly roll for the various organisations we work for and unions that have a keen interest in social inclusivity, the reality is that change must start with the individual…what are we doing to help kids and our community to prosper? Business as usual is not going to be enough it seems; it’s better to light a candle than curse the darkness.

Or maybe that should be something more technologically advanced than our metaphoric candle.




    • kellimcgraw

    • 16 years ago

    My high school streams very heavily – there is a selective and a local student stream, and then there is ranking WITHIN those streams.

    The exec often cite research into gifted and talented students that shows that G&T students learn better when they are separated from the ‘rubble’ and put into classes with like-minded peers.

    As far as I know, however, the research does NOT show that streaming has a positive effect on the students in the middle or bottom of the academic scale. In fact, does it not show the opposite?

    What makes matters worse though, is the criteria upon which the students are ranked – using end of year grades. An incredibly flawed system given that we only include exam and portfolio marks in these grades (both are about learning products, not learning processes), and that I have found the portfolio marking in the Faculty to be highly subjective and not comparable between classes. The arguement from the HT is that we can then shift students up and down if we feel they have been misplaced, but when it comes to the crunch very few students do move.

    • kellimcgraw

    • 16 years ago

    Is there a case for supporting streaming based on learning styles i.e. visual, auditory, kinaesthetic?

    • darcymoore

    • 16 years ago

    Kelli, unfortunately, I now it well. Not only do schools’ stream but we do it based on the shonkiest of data. My experience is that the top students do even better in mixed ability classesd (that are being engaged properly) and have the data to prove it from my previous school ie we went from hard streaming to complete mixed ability and our results in external exams soared (comparative to other faculties who were still streaming, as well as against previous results). There was also a change in reporting, faculty programming (became collaborative) and assessment to support the structural move to mixed ability. Do you have any support at your school for a rethink of approaches?

    BTW No, I do not think there is a case for streaming based on learning styles. In fact, I am of the school of thought that thinks we need to be very careful of labeling kids period. A variety of approaches is important and an awareness of our own strengths and weakness. That Greek proverb, ‘know thyself’, still applies. If a kid has a strength we need to help them improve in an area of weakness. Schools have gone as far a physically labelling kids so teachers know this strenght – that’s just scary IMHO.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *