Some schools are creating mixed classrooms based on learning levels. Becky Herzog used to get a half hearted response when she asked her son how his day was. But now he response with excitement for learning.
“He’s excited about it,” Herzog said of her son, Kaleb, who is now a fifth-grader at Lincoln-Erdman Elementary School. “We’ll talk about it and about what he learned. He’s bringing home what he learned during class.”
Herzog credits her son’s excitement for learning to a new program that the north-side Sheboygan elementary school is piloting this year.
The program — the only one of its kind in the school district — places fourth- and fifth-graders in mixed classrooms for particular subjects based on their learning levels.
This means that a fourth-grader who excels in math could be placed in a fifth-grade-level math class and a fifth-grader could be placed in a sixth-grade-level math class, for example.
“With this program, we kind of take the outliers,” said fourth-grade teacher Jenny Burhop. “Students that always kind of took a back seat and were afraid to raise their hand because there were so many students around them who knew more, those students are now starting to blossom because they’re like, ‘Whoa, I’m on equal ground here.’
“And then the kids who are used to kind of taking over the discussion, they’re really being challenged by their peers who are equally as gifted,” she said.
Burhop said the four-five combination classes are different than a popular educational practice, called “tracking,” where students are also separated into different groups based on ability level. With tracking, Burhop said students are virtually stuck in the educational path that was determined for them early on, regardless of how they evolve.
Lincoln-Erdman’s program, on the other hand, is more fluid, she said. Teachers evaluate students’ progress continually throughout the year — during their weekly staff meetings and more formally at the end of the semester — and if it seems, for example, that a student demonstrates he is ready for a more excelled class, teachers will move him to that level at any point during the year.