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Untracking the public schools in Minneapolis
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Subj:      [Mpls] Untracking the public schools in Minneapolis
Date:     11/16/2002 2:46:39 PM Central Standard Time

In a message dated 11/15/2002 9:06:11 PM Central Standard Time,
terry erickson writes:

>  ...My third grade classroom has some
>  students reading at a first grade level while others are reading at a fifth
>  grade level.  Those students reading at a first grade level are still
>  learning to decode words and need instruction on phonics.  Those students
>  reading at a fifth grade level need instruction on learning words in context
>  or understanding word origin.  Much different instructional needs!  How
>  would you propose to do that in a heterogeneous group Mr. Mann???
1) In many school districts instruction is based on a college-bound
curriculum and an individualized educational planning process. It is
a lot easier to teach a college bound curriculum and help
the slower kids keep up then it is to get the slower kids caught up
after they have fallen a couple grade levels behind.

2)  A thematic integrative curriculum is commonly used in nontracked
schools, such as the district's Montessori and Open Schools,
in the Arts for Academic Achievement program, and in schools making
the transition from multiple curriculum tracks to one track (which is usually
done by phasing out all but the highest track). Changes in curriculum
and teaching methods are also necessary.  
3) You won't be able to accommodate differences in academic ability in
a one-track, mixed ability classroom if you think it can't be done and
haven't been trained to do it.  When you differentiate the curriculum by
ability-grouping, you water it down for the "low-ability" instructional
groups.  You operate on the assumption that some kids can't keep up,
and you are pretty focused on providing direct instruction to little
groups, so you can't assess and address the needs of individual students very
well.  The "low-ability" kids usually struggle and fail, then give up and
become unmotivated, withdrawn, disruptive, etc.
4) "Skill grouping" and "ability-grouping" is the same thing if the skill
groups do not more-or-less-quickly become unnecessary by eliminating the
skills deficits that justified their creation in the first place.  Peer and
Cross-age tutoring might be used effectively in conjunction with skills

5) The reason some of your 3rd grade students are reading at a
first grade level is that they were not learning how to decode words in grades
one and two.  Phonics instruction was either extremely ineffective or didn't
happen at all.  This is a problem for a lot of 3rd grade teachers because
the districtwide reading curriculum is based on the look-say method.

6) Kids in grade one are usually able to learn decoding skills despite
significant pre-reading skills deficits (e.g., letter recognition).  There is
no good reason to hold them back.

7) It is likely that the decoding skills of students reading at a 3rd to
4th grade level could be improved.  Even students who reads at a 5th
grade level may have some decoding skill / knowledge deficits. It should be
possible to come up with some whole-classroom lessons and tutorial
activities that could engage and benefit all students.

8) It is appropriate to teach all of your students about the
origins of words and how to learn *the meaning* of words in context.
Also, Enrichment strategies used in the gifted / talented programs are
effective in making knowledge accessible to all students.
Commonly used remediation strategies (e.g., drill and kill) are generally
more effective as behavior management tools than as learning strategies.