Grouping at Laurel Falls Middle School and the practical wisdom of young gifted adolescents
Swor, Lisa R
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Any time schools undergo change in structure or policy, students and educators are affected. Around 1990, the school at which I taught was detracked in favor of heterogeneous grouping for all students. Because I had taught all eighth-graders in the lowest and highest tracks for several years prior to this change, I was interested in both groups’ perceptions of how grouping affected them. Since many scholars had conducted studies of grouping effects on children in lower tracks, I chose to focus on the gifted. For nine weeks in 1990, I observed 41 identified gifted children, classmates, and teachers at Laurel Falls Middle School (pseudonym). This gifted cohort completed four questionnaires concerning their perceptions of their achievement, motivation, peer interaction, and self-esteem in homogeneously versus heterogeneously grouped classes, and four were interviewed. Responses to some items on Questionnaires A and B about the appeal or lack of appeal of homogeneously and heterogeneously grouped classes, and related interview questions, are discussed in this document. Demographic information about gifted students, their school, school system, and community is also presented. Most frequently cited in the gifted cohort’s responses about the appeal or lack of appeal of mixed and like-ability classes was being able to work at their own achievement or ability levels. Over 73% said homogeneously grouped classes appealed to them because instruction was more apt to be appropriate for their ability levels. The pace of these classes was also an appeal (63%). When discussing heterogeneously grouped classes, 56% mentioned frustration and boredom when unable to achieve at their levels. Friendships were important in both types of classes, and gifted students delineated specific connections between homogeneously grouped peers. Students also noted that there was less pressure in mixed classes and said they provided a break. Two particular problems in the school studied were the severe underrepresentation of minority students in the eighth grade gifted program in 1990, and the lack of teacher preparation for serving special populations in the regular classroom after detracking. Concerns about heterogeneous grouping from the gifted students’ point of view and negative consequences of detracking are recorded in this study. Other studies elaborate negative effects of tracking for the nongifted. It is reasonable to conclude that no child’s education and well-being should be sacrificed for another child’s, yet surely there is more than one workable solution to this dilemma. Perhaps it involves new and creative ways of thinking about school, school success, intelligence, and talent.