Streaming at five set me up to fail; the power of expectation

I wrote an article about fixed and growth mindset last year, comparing it with the power of expectations. In the article I asked the following question; If you are a teacher asks yourself these questions: does your behavior and expectations towards your students have an impact on their performance? Video found here.

Today I have read two articles that address the same issue of expectations, or to be exact, the issue of streaming students according to ability. I know it seems like a good idea, to have a group of students much at the same level working towards common goals. And a classroom with 30 students at different levels, is stressful for teachers. Could streaming the students in specific groups be the solution to a challenging situation?  Perhaps not.  We know students learn at a different pace and reach different levels so what do we have to lose by grouping them accordingly? In this article by BBC, a deputy head talks about his experience in being grouped this way at a very early age.

No-one told Sean and his friend Billy what being “an oblong” meant – but they knew. Smart lads like Matthew and Paul (Sean still remembers their names) were on higher-ability tables. Sean believes the oblong-table pupils were set up to fail from the outset.

Later on, after taking a degree in teaching he conducted his own research on the topic and found the following;

Study after study suggested that being in the bottom group actually deters learning. And when he came to do his own research with pupils in the school he was then teaching in, their responses left him “devastated”. “Children spoke of being under pressure. One boy told me that when he was moved down a group, he couldn’t speak to his mum ‘for a couple of weeks’. “Another boy spoke about feeling trapped – and it was across the spectrum. “Before I carried out the research I would have assumed that children who were on the top-ability tables would be having the times of their lives and it was just us oblongs who didn’t like it… but what I found was, whether children were on the top tables, the middle tables or the bottom tables, there was this universal feeling of pressure… related to that there was a fear of failure.” Some children even rejected extra support because they feared it showed they couldn’t do the work and so would be moved down a group,” says Mr Macnamara.

In this article, the conclusions are the same.

There is limited empirical evidence to suggest that streaming results in better outcomes for students. Professor John Hattie, director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute, notes that ‘tracking has minimal effects on learning outcomes and profound negative equity effects’. Streaming significantly – and negatively – affects those students placed in the bottom sets. These students tend to have much higher representation of low socioeconomic backgrounds. Less significant is the small benefit for those lucky clever students in the higher sets. The overall result is relative inequality. The smart stay smart, and the dumb get dumber, further entrenching social disadvantage.

In the latest update of Hattie’s influential meta-analysis of factors influencing student achievement, one of the most significant factors – far more than reducing class size (effect: 0.21) or even providing feedback on student work (0.7) – is the teachers’ estimate of achievement (1.57). Streaming students by diagnosed achievement automatically restricts teacher expectations. Meanwhile, in a mixed environment, teacher expectations have to be more diverse and flexible.

The article goes on describing the advantages of mix group emphasizing the value of peer learning. Peer learning is the way to ensure that everyone in the class has an equal chance of learning. Using students who have mastered the content as teachers in the class not only helps the students who are struggling. When a student who has mastered a skill gets to pass it along, it gives that student a moment of accomplishment. And also students sometimes are able to explain difficult concepts in a manner that is more understandable to the other students.







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