First, some background:
Our 6th grade is departmentalized, meaning I teach my own students' reading, writing, and spelling. I then teach math to my own class and the two other classes. One of the other 6th grade teachers teaches science, and the other teaches social studies. This is the way it's pretty much been for the three years I've been in the district.
From about the second day of school I could tell that this group of 6th graders as a whole was pretty divided. We have a good amount of students who score low on standardized tests in math and a good amount who score high. There aren't a lot in the middle.
This week the students took MAP tests. The scores again showed quite the gap. There are many above and many below the math norms, but not a lot in the middle. I knew this was coming, so I decided to split the classes more or less by ability so that I can slow things down for the lower achieving students and really make sure they get solid on the essentials.
Now on to the real point of my post....
Today I was working on relabeling the folders where students hand in their assignments. To make it easier, I just labeled the classes red, white, and blue, since those are our school colors. Before I just called them Mrs. Goerend's class, Mrs. _________'s class and Mrs. ________'s class. The kids are used to this change happening because they've been divided by ability for math for the past two years.
One student saw me doing this and said, "The red group is the kids that are bad at math, isn't it?"
"No," I said. " It's actually not."
It was so sad to me to hear that. We all know the teachers who label kids red (low), yellow (medium), and green (high). Or there's plenty of other ways teachers label groups. I just have to label them SOMETHING besides by teacher's name because I have to label the hand-in folders.
When we tell the kids tomorrow what colored class they are in, they are going to know which is the low class (and it's not the red group). Kids aren't oblivious to who is better and who is worse at things. The other two are mixed among higher and medium achieving. I can about guarantee that some kid is going to say in the low class, "We're the kids that are bad at math."
How do you respond to this?
It's such a touchy subject. They just need it taught at a different pace. They may need additional practice. We may work with order of operations with just whole numbers and not decimals, so they don't have to think about two things at once.