Is Targeting bad?

Each year as I teach, I keep getting struck by the same idea: I wish I could group my students by ability and motivation.

I teach four sections of the same class. As the year goes on, I try to adjust my lessons to make them appropriate for each of these sections. One section is nearly filled with over-achieving students. Out of twenty-four, there are only three that don’t complete every assignment and look for ways to go above and beyond. In another section, it’s the complete opposite. Most of the class does the bare minimum needed to pass, or almost pass, and only a small handful work to achieve all that they can. For the most part, this is not a question of ability, but motivation.

If only I could move a few students around. Not only would an entire class full of over achievers be great, I would actually look forward to the underachievers as well. I could design my lesson plans to target those students. Instead of trying to create lessons that target both ends of the spectrum, I would target these underachievers. They don’t like to do homework? Ok, I’ll do away with homework, but spend more time in class working on assignments. Spend less time asking higher order thinking questions, and more time focusing on basic understanding. If my goal is truly to educate students, and not convince them to conform to my rules, this would help.

Why don’t I do this now? Eliminate homework from the underachieving class. I can’t bring myself to “dumb down” my lessons for those few high achievers. Instead, they have to suffer through class discussions where I have to repeat the same answers again and again and wait for those few minutes where I can stop by their desks and ask a few questions that the rest of the class wouldn’t understand or care about.

Of course, there are problems with this, as well. There are some underachieving students who are inspired by high achieving students around them and learn to work harder. If everyone in the class has a negative attitude, it’s hard to rise above that. Targeting students who once performed badly tends to force them down that same path.

What is my point? Well, here it is: Why can’t we focus on ways to make the high achieving students do better?  We worry all the time about how to help the kids who are “falling behind” but when we look at our test scores when compared to the rest of the world, it’s our highest students who are failing as well.

Why aren’t we focused on helping them?  Why is all our effort focused on the bottom?  I’m not saying we should forget about the struggling students, but I want more effort placed on the successful ones.

Every day, I share an exasperated smile with my “A” students as I explain a concept for the third time to students who don’t get it.  Why do they have to struggle to deal with distracting, disinterested, and disabled students when I could move them into a classroom full of similarly interested students?

Wouldn’t that be the best thing for them?

I’m the language lover and these are my thoughts. 



  1. renaissanceguy said,

    November 4, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Yes, absolutely. Not only should you have the freedom and opportunity to teach your classes in that way, but there should be alternative classes and even schools for different “types” of students.

    I know that you read my own blog post on education in which I talk about the need to diversify the schools.

    I’m going to write a post called “classroom” economics in which I discuss this idea of equality versus inequality in the classroom. I am going to use it as an analogy for my thoughts on the rich and poor, but it will also stand alone as a commentary on education.

  2. Chani said,

    November 20, 2007 at 2:46 am

    Ah, what a beautiful, beautiful post. I am glad to see that there are teachers who sympathize with highly motivated students. We need more of you.

    I despise the idea of ‘closing the gap’ by simply aiming for medocrity. We should not be closing any gaps. We should be raising standards for everyone.

    The only practice I can recommend is having discussions/socratics in smaller groups (and let the students choose their group) while supervising/aiding each group separately. Create your own classes within the class the System gave you.

    Good luck.

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