Thursday, November 20, 2008

Reflecting on streaming

We streamed the year ten mathematics classes this year. To our mind it was a success. Other learning areas had heterogeneous classes and had a lot of difficulties with behaviour management issues that streaming helped us avoid. We have our 3A, 2C, 2A and 1B classes for 2009 where many doubted whether they would occur.

The success that we have had has put some pressure on the lower school to stream classes to better cater to our more capable students. There has been some regrouping in lower school classes and teachers have reported improvements in the ability to teach mathematics topics.

The start of the Maths/English streaming debate started this week. Should we stream on mathematics results or English results? Being a mathematics teacher, to my mind it requires little consideration. English teachers on the whole don't want to stream - after all English is a subject that lends itself to the heterogeneous approach - an essay can be assessed on many levels. Mathematics on the other hand tends to be hierarchical with a concept impossible to learn without the building blocks before it. Therefore stream on mathematics.

It doesn't need to be that black and white either. Some clever timetabling was done for us and now Maths, English, SOSE, Science can use a good compromise. We have grouped all yr 10 students into two bands, an upper ability band (class A & B) and a lower ability band (class C&D). A&B's are timetabled at the same time and C&D's are timetabled at the same time.

So for the situation above, in the first example maths students in period 1 are streamed into four classes (movement of students between A&B or C&D can be done freely for each learning area). In period 2 for English, the upper ability group is mixed into two classes and the students from C&D are mixed.

The main issue occurs when students in the C are not streamed correctly (eg. maturity raises their output, students are not assessed correctly etc.) and need to be promoted to the upper ability block. This involves the changing of many classes. All four areas have to be flexible in the promotion of students and the consideration of who can move to the upper band. We try to avoid movement by setting entrance tests before the start of the year and re-examining students after four weeks at the start of term 1. New students are to sit the tests before entering an ability block. The main advantage is the reduction of the level of teaching diversity required - there is less gap between the top and bottom student in each class.

It is not perfect as students may not settle into classes as well as they constantly encounter different student configurations (as typically happens with options classes).

Furthermore, it would be interesting to know if our success would have been the same if students had been streamed in all classes. Maybe the novelty of the streaming process is a factor in the success itself.

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