Capability gaps are huge… what to do?

Teachers are dealing with classes of 25-30 students where the capability gap between the least and most capable students is huge. What this potentially translates into is the least capable students get most of the teachers time while the more capable students have to more or less teach themselves. There is a range of differentiated learning strategies that can be brought to bear but this does not change the likelihood that lower capability students will get the bulk of teacher time and energy. Current thinking is that this is fair and equitable ie that teachers apply effort where it is needed the most. I am not convinced either way, and find myself with some questions:

  1. Is it fair and equitable for a small set of students to monopolize the teachers time?
  2. Is it cost effective to raise the capability of at-risk students by focusing teachers time on them in a mixed ability classroom, or would it be better to place them in a classroom with specialized teachers and significantly lower teacher/student ratios (and therefore at a much higher cost)
  3. Can we implement reading and maths recovery programs widely throughout secondary schools? Has a cost benefit analysis been done on this?
  4. Can the use of technology help or hinder this challenge?
  5. Is there a natural rate of failure (just like the natural rate of unemployment)? And the best strategy is to develop more courses around life skills rather than academic success?
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3 Responses to Capability gaps are huge… what to do?

  1. Unqualified to respond to those great questions, I find myself asking another: How would educational experts design classrooms to solve that (and other challenges) today if they had unlimited funding and no historical baggage? My guess is quite differently. Perhaps we need to start there, and then wind the solution back to a place on the funding spectrum between somewhere between ‘unlimited ‘ and ‘current’.


  2. Grant Avery says:

    What about option 2 but without the higher teacher-to-student ratios? i.e. the “streaming’ of classes we used to have in the old days and which some schools still have? No extra cost at all. Or are we worried about psychologically damaging those kids by telling them they’re in a streamed class? I was in class “c” on an a.b.c.d. scale (‘d’ was low) when I was at school (70’s). We kids never really thought about what it meant (well I didn’t anyhow.) The streamed classes enabled much larger class sizes than are able to occur with non-streamed classes.


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