Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Red Group

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. 


  1. I'm so flustered with this issue. In my school probably 75% of the kids are yellow or red on the MAP scores. In addition, probably 50% are or should be qualifying for some SPED services.

    I feel we do them a disservice by not teaching them grade level material and meeting them where they are at. On the other hand, what are they going to get out of teaching them at grade level if they can't do it?

    I teach AVID ( which isn't traditional content but college focused, organizational, thinking and general how to be a student stuff.

    Our district is pushing algebra for 8th grade. I've gone around with several teachers about this. Our math teacher says the students aren't ready for algebra. I argue, give them algebra exposure and teach some of the math basics with it. I'm not a math teacher.

    I guess, I come down on the side that says push them for what they are supposed to be doing while still giving them the support they need to be successful. I'd hate for them to be given the disadvantage of not knowing what they are supposed to do and rising up to. I also don't want them going on in school getting farther behind and eventually paying for remedial classes in college.

    I'm done rambling now. Also, I like your blog colors. I've been reading thru RSS and never actually been to your site!

  2. @Knaus
    Thanks for the feedback. I feel that my students who are struggling have been stuck in this same problem the past few years. They get put in a "low math group," but are not held to the grade level expectations. This grouping really should benefit the higher kids in that we can go farther than we usually do. My plan is to major on the majors and get them solid on the skills they really need.

  3. Becky,
    My name is Sarah Pierce and I am in Mr. Strange’s edm310 class. I am studying to become a secondary math teacher so this post was very interesting to me! I can relate to this topic. When I was in middle school, we had the same divided classes, and we too figured out who was in the “smarter” classes. I can see how some students would be hurt by this, but I understand you are doing this to benefit them. They need to be taught a different pace than the rest of the students in order to be successful in the class. You seem like a very caring teacher and I’m sure you will be able to reassure those students in the “lowest” group that they can be successful!

  4. @Sarah
    Thanks for your encouragement. We had a little "come to Jesus" talk with those kids today at the end of their class. Their class definitely has the most behavior issues. We talked about how that could be part of the reason some of them are there...Their behaviors get in the way of them learning. We also discussed why that they aren't the "dumb group," but that they may just need more repetition than others.

    We'll see how the next weeks go!

  5. Hi, Ms. Goerend!

    My name is Amanda Brewton, and I'm a student at the University of South Alabama in Dr. Strange's EDM 310 class.

    I made a comment on this blog post on September 26, and I can't seem to find it. Do you know what may have happened to it?

    Thank you!

  6. This is definitely a touchy topic. I totally agree with your last thoughts:

    "They just need it taught at a different pace. They may need additional practice."

    I've been in spots where we were practically forbidden to ability group, and spots where it has been practically mandated. I think we need both to have effective learning.

    It's important for students to know that everyone learns in different ways and at different rates. I also think it is vital for students to take ownership of their learning. I hope your class makes the connection to their poor behavior and their learning.

    Thanks for sharing!

    - @newfirewithin

  7. @Justin
    Yes, I totally agree that students need to take ownership of their learning! I hope that the students may come to see a link between their behavior/attention/participation and their learning!