I attended a professional development event last night where I was told that it is our moral imperative to close the gap between high and low achieving students. How do we do this?
Let’s say there are two students: Bob and Doug. Both students are in Grade 6. Bob reads at a Grade 8 level, and Doug reads at a Grade 3 level. They are both in the same class, and their teacher does a great job and both student improve their reading level. Now this improvement could either be expressed through multiplication or addition. Let’s say that they both improve by a multiple – 1.5. If that were the case, then the gap between the students also increases by 1.5. Bob would now read at a Grade 12 level and Doug at a Grade 4.5 level. If both student improve by the same percentage the gap increases by the same percentage as well, creating a greater disparity while improving outcomes for both students. If the improvement was expressed as addition, then both students improve by the same amount and the gap does not change.
I would argue that the regular classroom may be not the place for the gap to be closed, but it is the place for all students. I remember when my sister’s teacher told my mother that my sister was “by far the best reader in her class, but she was confident that the other students would catch up by the end of the year.” My mother was appalled. The teacher had basically said that my sister would not be receiving any instruction that year. Is it fair to hold back or ignore high functioning students to allow the others to catch up? Maybe they should just stay home and watch TV until the others have caught up.
The answer is not, in my opinion, in the regular classroom or in pull-out classes. The answer is in extra instruction outside of the bookends of the school day. We should be looking at using after school classes, weekend classes, summer classes, anything to reach these people without ignoring those who do not need the extra help. Students in Canada attend school about 185 days a year for 5 to 5.3 hours a day. This leaves 10 hours outside of school and sleep, and 180 full days, to find extra time for extra help. We obviously don’t need to use all of it, but even a small percentage would make an enormous difference.