Tracking, Mixing – Actively?

In the paper, Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? (Pivovarova, 2014), the author discussed the effects of peers in a classroom setting. In very broad terms, in Pivovarova’s paper, students are classified as higher, average and lower achieving; the author even made mention of “bad” kids. In addition, there were multiple reasons explaining why this is practiced in schools around the world. I had a few revelations when reading this paper and couldn’t quite get them out of my head.

To begin, I recalled my own childhood when reading this paper. I remember from a very early age, that the “gifted” students were treated differently. They had better books, better teachers and seemed to obtain more help from the teachers. Some of the “bad” students would call these “gifted” students the “teacher’s pet” because they were always getting called on to answer a question or asked to help with special tasks. Looking back now I remember that it made me feel terrible. I would question why I was not asked to clean the erasers (it was cool back then) or to help grade papers. I was a good student but obviously I was not “gifted.” Sadly, I also recalled the students who were not so “good.” My heart hurts a little when I think about how they must have felt.

As in any group there are ranges in intelligence, economic status, culture and race (to name a few) and the groups at my primary school were not much different. The school district that I attended also tracked students and unfortunately everyone knew what track they were in based on which class they were placed. When I think about this now it makes me angry. I questioned: How can this be? Isn’t this a form of segregation and racism? Why did my parent’s allow this to happen? Why did anyone allow this to happen? Of course, some of my questions were answered in the paper as to a probable “why” a school would track but I still don’t like or agree with it.

Putting my childhood memories aside I also thought how my area of interest, active learning, could play a part in halting the practice of tracking students by achievement level. In one of my research blogs I discussed various ways that an instructor can incorporate active learning methods in a classroom, simply and at no cost. Some of these methods include the pause procedure, which means the instructor stops every 10-15 minutes and allows the students to check their notes with a peer. Additionally, another method of active learning is small group work.

Continuing, one of the student groups that Pivovarova analyzed were those that relocated from another school. “The potential reason for lower academic outcomes for movers is that events that make students move – family break- ups, unemployment or loss of parents – also negatively affect their academic achievement” (Pivovarova, 2014, p. 9). In relaying this quote I am hopeful that a potential instructor would correlate that by incorporating one of the active learning methods discussed above it would help a struggling student. These improvement in the student could be reflected in their personal feelings (feeling less isolated) and would encourage their classroom participation, which could possibly improve academic achievement.

In closing, I was particularly surprised how a study on tracking or mixing students in classrooms would have any connection to active learning – and stir up so many emotions for me! I am just scratching the surface on my action research and already feel the desire to learn more. I am excited about how I may be able to contribute solutions to significant issues that are occurring in the United States public educational system.


Pivovarova, M. (2014). Should We Track or Should We Mix Them? Mary Lou Teachers College. Tempe: Arizona State University.

Some good can come from this

Kevin was not the name of my sixth grade bully – it is the name I’ll use here to reflect upon him, though. I could just as easily call him Voldemort, the dark lord, or he who will not be named. Yes, I have been watching and reading a lot of Harry Potter this summer with my children in between all the readings and papers in the three doctoral classes I’m taking right now.

harry pI’ll never forget Kevin. He was the new kid back in sixth grade. He was the bully. He was the boy who was constantly in trouble. And, he was the boy who struggled to read. I learned a lot from Kevin that school. It was his one and only year at my school, and in that year, I learned a lot about what not to do. When I think back upon Kevin, there was real value in me knowing him because his behavior reinforced all of the good things I’ve been taught by him doing the opposite. Kevin wasn’t the only “Kevin” in my school career. He and people like him taught me a lot over the years, and I wonder who I’d be today if all my classes were homogenized, and I wasn’t able take classes with all of those Kevins.

Schools, it seems, are trending towards classroom grouping.  Any given fourth grade at any given grammar school might have its “high-achieving” class, its group of middle or average students grouped together, and a “low achieving” class.  The thinking, of course, behind this grouping is that it allows teachers to concentrate their teaching on all the low students at once or all the high.  No longer would a teacher have to teach multiple lessons at once considering both his or her high group and low group in the context of a single lesson.  This seems much easier for teachers.  It seems as if these manufactured, homogeneous classes would benefit learners as well, but do they?

Is there value in having “slow kids” in your classroom if you are a high-achieving student?  Do heterogeneous classrooms further learning for low-achievers since they can learn and model themselves after some of the higher achievers in the class?  If schools and teachers edit out all types of heterogeneous-ness to coin a phrase, does that ultimately benefit learners?

I think of classrooms from 50 or 60 years ago.  There wasn’t a movement back then to mix classrooms according to standardized test data.  All sections of fourth grade classrooms at that same hypothetical school referenced prior were mixed up randomly in that era.  This may have been okay because schools tended to me more homogeneous themselves back then.  Now, with immigration, refugee populations, and more movement from state to state than prior, schools are decidedly more heterogeneous.

Pivovarova’s “Should we track or should we mix them?” explores issues related to the “to be or not to be” of the current state of education. Pivovarova (2014) starts with this premise, “The standard argument in favour of tracking is that it is easier to teach a group with small variance of abilities” (p. 2). It does follow logically that tracking does make teaching easier. The question that then arises is: are things that are easier for teachers necessarily better for students? Pivovarova goes on with her studies and uses mathematical formulas to advance arguments on whether or not schools should track. She (2014) writes, “To put the numbers into perspective, a high-achiever being surrounded by good peers gains a quarter of standard deviation in test score for every standard deviation increase in the average ability of classmates, while a low-achiever gains 0.15 of standard deviation – still a sizable improvement” (p. 16). The numbers seem clear here. High-achievers make everything better. Still, high-achieving students are a limited resource in classrooms. Is it better to group them to promote the learning of all high achievers or should they be better “utilized” helping low-achieving students – and, is that even ethical, to use high-achievers consciously to better other students? Pivovarova (2014) relates, “For instance, a teacher might need to adjust her instruction to tailor it to the largest share of students in class – the high achievers. That might have an adverse impact on low achievers and even on the average students. At the same time, if there are spillovers from good students, then a larger share of high-achievers would have a positive impact on everyone in the classroom” (p.18). These decisions remind me a lot of playing chess, or possibly there are the decisions a general would make in war. How do schools and teachers best utilize their students to best promote growth in classrooms?

I do not envy these types of administrative decisions. I almost couldn’t blame them if they all just decided to randomize classes again if only for the ease of it all. Again, though, I do think there is value in this type of randomization. I probably wouldn’t have met Kevin otherwise, and in doing so, I may not have learned all those valuable lessons of what not to do.


Pivovarova, Margarita (2014). Should we track or should we mix them?

And the Oscar goes to…

My school provides its students with iPads upon their first day of school. The computers are prevalent throughout all of their classes. Books are read using iBooks. Homework and tests are done online. We even utilize Blackboard, which is strangely ironic for me because as I take these electives this summer and as I take this course as well, you’d like I’d have a better grip on all the online content. That’s probably a whole different post, however.

At my school, one of the outcomes of our students having iPads is that teachers assign SO MANY movie projects. I’m guilt of this as well, but guilty is probably the wrong word because I do see value in the projects I assign. That having been said, other teachers find value in their projects as well, and by the time a young man graduates from Brophy, it’s almost like he should be up for an Oscar or something with all the movies he’s made.


Baustita et al (2013) wrote about the value in this as well in “Participatory action research and city youth: methodology insights from the council of youth research.” I found this article heartening because it validated much of what I believe in terms of the reflective projects or the PowerPoints presentations that are referenced. Bautista et al (2013) wrote, “Documentary filmmaking allows students to use multimodal and multivocal elements to an even greater degree than with the PowerPoint presentations. The video format provides a space to meld both visual and auditory stimuli while offering a rich platform for the incorporation of a stakeholder voice” (p. 17). I see value in teaching my students paragraph writing and sentence structure, but I love my reflective movie projects. Students cannot leave my class without reflecting upon their lives, their gifts, what makes them special, and how lucky they are. I do realize that this reflection makes my students consistently aware of self when sometimes they don’t want to be. My students do reflect on race in my classroom, but it’s never my attempt to force my students into something they are not comfortable with. Dunbar (2008) wrote about this in “Critical race theory and indigenous methodologies.” He wrote, “Issues of race have been the backdrop in all my lived experiences. That includes occasions when I was acutely aware that my race was an issue and instances when it was no so obvious” (p. 89). The numbers are still most at Brophy in terms of the amount of White students, but Hispanic student enrollment climbs every year. My White students, I’m guessing, do not live their lives considering their whiteness on a daily basis. From Dunbar, I see that my Hispanic students (and my students of other races and ethnicities) probably do. I think that this is both a shame and a privilege for these students – most challenges in life can be turned positive if you try. Yes, my Hispanic students deal with issues of race as a “backdrop” to their lives each and every day at predominately White Brophy, but I think that can be looked upon as a really good thing. I hope that I can foster a pride in this fact in my classroom, especially with some of my reflective projects. I also hope that the tone I set in my classroom allows my Hispanic students to feel valued and that they feel I value their race and their culture. It’s never been my desire to put students on the spot with regards to race, but this brings me back to Howard. I do not want to bury race in my classroom culture. I’d like to confront it and ultimately to celebrate it.


Bautista, Mark A., Bertrand, Melanie, Morrell, Ernest, Scorza, D’Artagnan, Matthews, Corey.

(2013). Participatory action research and city youth: methodology insights from the council of youth research. Teachers College Record, 115, 1-23.

Dunbar, Christopher Jr. (2008). Critical race theory and indigenous methodologies. Handbook    of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies. Los Angeles: Sage, 85-99.

Intersectionality and Impact


One of the readings from this week, Intersectionality as a Framework for Transformative Research in Special Education, was truly life changing and perspective altering (Garcia & Ortiz, 2013). This article was particularly eye-opening because it highlighted and delved into an area of research that I have rarely considered nor at the depth that the authors covered it. As a classroom educator, I’ve often considered my identity, positionality, the funds of knowledge that all stakeholders bring to the classroom, and even the power that I personally held by covering or not covering topics, the texts that were selected and even the people that I recognized historically. In the article, Garcia and Ortiz gather a arsenol of research to really support and propose a framework of intersectionality in research in special education. Through their article however I really have connected with the importance of delving deep into my many identities, the identities of my prospective research community, my insider/outsider status in relation to that community, my biases and stereotypes, the nature of my research, the appropriateness of the knowledge that is to be gleaned, and even who will benefit from that knowledge.

Garcia and Ortiz highlight the importance of this researcher reflexivity because of its nature to impact what we deem as important research, the methods we employ and even the communities we involve in that research. It is possible that my past experiences, skills, and knowledge base comprise, in essence, who I am and therefore who might or might not be integrated into this research that I orchestrate. The authors do an excellent job of highlighting that the inclusion or exclusion of certain subgroups extends our knowledge of them and builds on the holistic body of research that exists. On the flipside of the coin, if our research does not include certain peoples, our knowledge of them does not increase and nor does that information, perspective, unique knowledge become a part of our holistic knowledge from research.

The authors even highlighted an important element of value within the research community that stems from the What Works Clearinghouse which excludes interventions for ELL students that are performed in languages other than English (pg 39). This inherent valuing of interventions done in English over others that are performed in other languages hurts the overall body of research on supporting ELL students as it automatically excludes a whole other body of work that appears to not align with the organizations socio-political beliefs on language instruction. If The Clearinghouse is supposed to be a gathering of what works so that this information can guide political, district and school leaders in a decision-making process, then all interventions surrounding this population should be considered and analyzed.
Throughout my entire reading, highlighting and notetaking of this article I found myself continuously nodding my head in agreement, saying, “huh, hmmm, huh”. I really connected with the topic and found myself convicted in analyzing my own scholar/researcher identify closely, the community of learners who will and will not be a part of my research, the knowledge that I hope to glean, who will benefit from that knowledge and the methods in which it will be gathered. One question or nagging thought that has persisted throughout the article and continues to surface at the conclusion of reading it would be, when is it healthy or right to participate in research and when isn’t it and who helps to make that call? What if, in my researcher reflexivity, I illuminate areas of bias and stereotypes within my own lens, how do I go about remediating these deficiencies? How do I even notice that I have these? Is this something that can only be explored and identified in groupings of “different’ people? If I have biases, does that mean I should not participate in research at all, to some degree, or only in community of others? How do I move forward after my initial reflection and declaration of my position? Do I engage in this process at every stage of research seeing as that it is often the acquiring of knowledge and interaction with others that does alter one’s identity?

I guess the “bottom line” or greatest connection I feel as though I can take away from this article, is that I have a lot of identity searching and clarifying to do and that it appears that the only way that I can most “safely” traverse the difficult task ahead is to be transparent and in communion with many different people to engage in the reflective and growing process. Earlier, I stated that this article was perspective altering, which it has been, but even more honestly it appears to have been spring-boarding in its effect. It deeply causes me to ask, “What IMPACT will the act of my researching have? Really, what impact and why?”.

Culturally Relevant Pedagogy and Self Reflection

According to Tyrone Howard (2003), “the formation of a culturally relevant teaching paradigm becomes extremely difficult, if not impossible, without critical reflection. The nature of critical reflection can be an arduous task because it forces the individual to ask challenging questions that pertain to one’s construction of individuals from diverse racial, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds” (p. 198). As an academic advisor, I am often the very first person a new student meets upon being accepted to the university. Therefore, I am constantly mindful of how my past experiences, expectations, and biases can be passed on to my students which can result in a positive or negative first impression of the university on the part of my students.

This article was particularly poignant in that it identified a problem of practice and posed a relevant solution that can implemented in a variety of educational settings. The issue is that teacher-educators lack self-reflection in determining how their biases affect their pedagogy. The article posed the question, “what does race have to do with teaching?” Teachers generally build curriculum based on theory and desired learning objectives rarely considering the cultural and ethnic background of their students. While viewing students as learners, regardless of their cultural experience, is one way of leveling the playing field between students, it omits the tendency of students to relate principles to their own experiences. To remedy this problem of practice, Howard (2003) presents the notion of cultural reflection in which teacher-educators become culturally relevant by reflecting on their own experiences and biases in order to see how their position in the learning process affects the student in a positive or negative way.

Howard (2003) proposes a solution to the question at hand by suggesting that teacher-educators engage in a self-reflective process to examine their own biases and how their pedagogy and classroom environment are impacted by those biases. I agree with Howard’s point that the process of cultural reflection poses a challenge for teacher-educators because it forces them to question their own construction and ideas of students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. Facing the arduous and possibly painful process of reflection in which the educator must identify the complexities of teaching students who are from backgrounds different from their own. Howard (2003) suggests the process is often painful because it forces the educator to recognize their views on cultural differences were instilled by family members who may have impressed their prejudiced views on the educator, which innately impacts the learning process in the classroom, especially for ethnic minorities.

Cultural reflection also requires that teacher-educators take personal accountancy for their own pedagogy and teaching methods (Ladson-Billings, 1995). While the district or university may mandate certain curricula and learning objectives in the classroom, educators must take personal action to ensure the academic and social competence of their students remains intact. This notion can prove to be challenging as it calls educators to find a balance between the student’s home life and school environment, however, doing so will produce students who are successful academically, are culturally competent, and socially equitable (Ladson-Billings, 1995).

As an African American, I greatly understand the importance of culturally relevant pedagogy in the learning environment. When I was in first grade my teacher sent me home with a homework assignment. The following week we would be studying the 1950’s in class. The teacher asked us and our parents to conduct some research about the decade, and come dressed in the fashion of the day to share with our classmates. The purpose of the exercise was for us to reflect on the “good times” of the decade and pay homage to the happenings of the era. Needless to say, my mother, who was a child during the ‘50s was extremely angry with this assignment, for the era was anything but “good times” for people of color. Sadly, the assignment objectives were completely lost on me as the cultural difference between my teacher and myself (family) were at odds. While the intent was not necessarily one of malice, the learning objectives were not socially, nor culturally relevant to me. Howard’s notion of cultural reflection could have been applied to this example resulting in greater impact for the classroom environment.


Howard, T. C. (2003). Culturally relevant pedagody: Ingredients for critical teacher reflection. Theory into Practice, 42(3), 195-202.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465-491.