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To Group or Not to Group?

That is a question. The pendulum swings continually. Every year I dealt with parents whose only wish was that their children be in the high reading and math groups. I am a huge proponent of grouping for a variety of reasons, but only appropriate grouping.

If the purpose is to push a child so they can be on a track to Ivy League colleges, I am totally opposed to it. I have seen many gifted children crushed by inappropriate grouping.

In the primary grades, a child’s grouping is not an indicator of what they will do in the future. I had many students in my “low” math class that became rocket scientists. One worked on the first SpaceX launch. Another holds multiple degrees in astro physics and astro engineering, but in third grade they were not ready for the concepts that others were developmentally ready to understand. It’s all in brain development.

Grouping needs to be based on what is developmentally appropriate for each child. I often dreamt of yearly brain screening using a functional MRI to determine grouping. We would never introduce algebra to a child whose prefrontal cortex was still developing, Would we ask a ten month old to race against at 5 year old? Of course not! Yet that is what we do when we ask for our children to be in high groups for subjects they are not developmentally ready to grasp.

I have had students who I was forced to put in the high group who struggled for the first half of the year. By February, once their brains developed a little more, they were able to grasps the concepts taught at the beginning of the year. Was the struggle helpful? No. It affected their self-esteems. I encouraged the parents to drop the children down one group the next year because it matched them developmentally. Every parent who did as I asked found their children enjoying the subject more and the nightly crying fits disappeared.

I feel like putting children in groups that they are not brain friendly to them is like trying to fit into a pair of size 6 pants when you are a size 8. You can get them zipped up, but you are never comfortable. Once you wear the right size pant, you look and feel better. Let’s make sure the class fits the developmental readiness of the student.

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