A team is as strong as its weakest player.
Getting a student out of their comfort zone is actually beneficial to their growth. As someone who grew up with crippling anxiety, I can assure you that none of my current goals would not be achievable had I not been the student to an amazing teacher named De Kelner who sunk her teeth into me and ripped me out of my comfort bubble.
De’s classroom dynamics were unique, for good reason. Seiad Valley Elementary School is the only school in Seiad Valley and harbors about 30 K-8 students in any given year. No, 30 students were not in one classroom, that two digit number makes up the entire school. Three teachers exist in this school: one for kindergartners, one for grades 1-3, and one for grades 4-8. This small population allowed De to have such an incredibly balanced classroom. She was the HBIC of grades 4-8.
De was faced with a daunting task. She had 4 different grades in her classroom and had to accommodate each student individually.
How do you create balance in a high school classroom with students at different learning levels?
To put it simply, you have to create spaces where each student is allowed to grow. But a shy kid like me will not grow in a large group setting, which is exactly why my experiences in the 6th-7th grades were trash.
In De’s situation, she had different classes, not just different students. And a 4th grader cannot (and should not unless under special circumstances, like being a genius) do an 8th grader’s work. Her solution to this was to treat the class as if they were one, cohesive group full of smaller groups.
Each grade did school work that corresponds to their grade level. This is an obvious fix to the issue of having different classes. But De did something else that was particularly unique to help students who had trouble keeping up with their own grade. And it was simple.
When an 8th grader could do 8th grade level math, but could not reach the 8th grade level reading and writing standards, that student was moved into a different grade’s reading and writing assignments.
Now, I’m not implying that a high school classroom will have students at a 4th grade learning level and students at an 8th grade learning level, but I am saying that there is something very similar.
In a high school level English classroom, there will be students from all kinds of different English learning levels. These levels make up an extensive list of abilities, such as word recognition, summarization, and fluency, among many others.
The issue with a traditional classroom setting where 30 students are taught at the same pace and given the same homework and assignments is that the student who has no issues with summarization will not be challenged by a handout customized for students who need help summarizing. These students who can summarize will finish the handout in record time, leaving everyone else behind. A student who cannot summarize will most likely compare herself to the student who can summarize and feel inadequate, hindering her ability to excel in school.
But assigning the student who can’t summarize specialized work aside from all the other students is demeaning, embarrassing, and unfair.
To combat this, I propose a classroom that revolves around the students’ abilities similar to the one De used. Each of my students will be assigned into a “reading group” based on their abilities. Each group will be assigned work catered to their English learning level. No one group will be doing the same work, reading the same books, or answering the same questions.
This classroom will be the ideal situation for students who range from struggling with anxiety to being out going and gregarious because each reading group will be able to learn at a pace that is not too fast or slow for their abilities.
You might be thinking that the students who are “good” at reading will still make the students who are “bad” at reading feel bad about their abilities, but this will not be the case. When you create a platform where each student is aware of their abilities, it gives them something to focus on to better themselves instead of using their abilities to overshadow and (whether intentional or not) put others down. If a student knows that they are “bad” at summarizing, they will work harder to be “good” at it.