A faux pas that didn’t hit a nerve

Last week I was very concerned that I had upset some of my Year 10 students by putting them into ‘streamed’ PBL teams and letting the class know about it. See my post here.

Well I felt so bad that I wrote a few tweets belittling myself only to be sent a tweet by my long time twitter friend Darcy Moore. Here is the tweet:

Because I admire, respect and trust Darcy, I clicked on the link he sent me. This is where it led me:

School colour-codes pupils by ability

This article didn’t exactly make me feel any better, but it did prompt some deeper reflection on how to address my mistake – and whether I even needed to apologise or explain my reasons behind the streaming. After all, hasn’t a whole school been designed on the very approach I was criticising myself for using?

Here are some of the comments from my PLN about how I should/could address the faux pas with my class:

So armed with 20 copies of the article Darcy sent me, I headed into my Year 10 class to explain away my actions. It was interesting that my prac student Lauren Forner was watching this lesson – she had followed my twitter regret and read my blog post. Her jokes about me justifying my faux pas as though it was part of some experiment on the students were funny, but not true in the least – I made it very clear to the students that I felt I had made a bad decision. Funny thing was, the kids didn’t seem to mind. Well, they didn’t openly admit to the group that they minded anyway.

Our camp-fire discussion about the school in England generated some interesting and suprisingly level-headed yet varied responses. Some of my students felt that they would like to be in a school system that divided students on ability level – they felt that they would be advantaged significantly because they would get better opportunities in the top level. This makes sense. Some students said they would like a streamed system because the education they got would be more tailored to their individual needs – the work would be at their level and they could feel successful. But I think the majority of the class were concerned about what this streaming would do to your psychological and social development. Many felt that being streamed from age 11 was simply unfair. What if you were a late-bloomer? What if you were very capable at 11 but lost focus as you matured? What if you were gifted in one area (like Maths or Science) but struggled in another (like English)?

The biggest reason against streaming was social – surely it isn’t good for students to be looked down upon as ‘less capable’? Surely fights would occur between the houses? Wouldn’t this type of streaming encourage students to behave in ways stereotypical of a certain ‘class’ or ‘intelligence level’? Would it ever be possible to break the mould that the school had forced you into?

I loved this discussion with my students. They were so very mature about schooling. It makes me want to teach ‘The Wave’ when we study ‘Individual and Authority’ later this term. I think they’ll find some interesting parallels between ‘The Wave’ and their own world.



7 thoughts on “A faux pas that didn’t hit a nerve

  1. There are many sides to this debate and depending on what you value, it’s easy to swing to one side over the other. I noticed that the social effects caused by streaming vary with the maturity of students. More mature students seem more able to cope with it and I think part of that is a better sense of knowing and accepting oneself- strengths and weaknesses.

    My daughter’s school has streaming for years 7-10. This is reviewed every year so there’s a fair bit of movement. She’s a case in point – Class2 in y7, Class3 in y8 and now Class1 in y9. It was interesting that in y8, nearly all her teachers said that she would achieve more if she was in a higher stream. She worked harder in semester 2 and did make it up to top class. Is this good or bad? Well, she went from having the top score in her maths class to being one of the lower scorers in the top class. Is it better to be top of a middle class than the bottom of the top class? She doesn’t seem to mind either way – confident in her own strengths and particularly, I think, confident in her circle of friends who will not judge her based on her ability.

    My ex-school streamed maths. As a teacher there, I made recommendations for students to move up or down. In most cases, students appreciate the moves in terms of their learning. They know that they’re not really tagged ‘forever’; they can move up or down. Parents struggled with this more than students did. Funny that, huh?

    So, I guess, here’s what I’ve learned:
    1 – review ability regularly (review streaming groupings); not tagged for life
    2 – differentiate anyway
    3 – explain or discuss why (like you did)


    • Thanks for your comment – I agree, it is a difficult issue however I feel that if educators are given the resources to cater for ALL students within one school than the problems associated with elitism, segregation and discrimination.
      Every person is an individual and an individual learner. The sooner our systems accept that as true, the better for the future of all students.

      • I wasn’t advocating one over the other. I’m personally not convinced with either side, in fact.

        My point is not unlike yours – we have to cater for individuals and hence the need to differentiate even in streamed environments. I have observed that teachers seem to differentiate less, if at all, with streaming because the ability range is smaller. (Purely anecdotal comment).

        There will always be elitism/discrimination in society precisely because we are all different and part of our survival instincts I think is knowing that, e.g. flight vs fight. I don’t think it’s an ethical question here though one can argue that accordingly. And this was my first point above, depending on where you’re coming from, your view on streaming could change drastically.

        For or against streaming, we should recognise the individuals therein, respect individuality and help students develop their sense of identity. Part of that is accepting that there are things (many even) where others are better than oneself and vice versa – and that should be ok. As you noted, life lessons can be learned from this experience and from your posts, it’s altogether positive albeit a bit angst-y.

  2. I think your commitment to making these kinds of decisions for pedagogical reasons is the point and agree with Darcy and Neil. You are always reflecting on your practice and willing to look at the theory and see it in action.And being flexible about what groupings and when. It is your strength as a teacher and you are always engaging the kids in conversations about learning which has to make them more thoughtful learners. My personal reservations about streamed classes have always been about the way streaming tends to lead to a contracted curriculum for students who are in any but the top stream (and that is based on both professional experience and research). That’s not to say I wouldn’t stream a task if it suited my goals for the task and would create a learning environment that was more effective for the kids.

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