Consider my two Year 10 classes. One is a streamed class, the top class (class A). The other is mixed ability (class B). Some of the top students in the mixed class are also in the streamed class (the classes are for different subjects).
Today, and for the whole week, class A has worked mostly productively and cooperatively with substantial freedom. I gave them a broad topic and question to answer, and they were able to choose their specific topic and direct their research from there. They worked beautifully.
Class B was a battle today. They’re often a battle and today was one of the worst lessons. I attempted to step them through the assessment task I had just handed them. I was effectively giving them the keys to the door, which the could convert to easy marks. It was a gift. But not only were about a quarter of the students disrupting the class, they weren’t even paying attention or writing notes. They flatly refused easy marks. This is entirely irrational behaviour, some supporting evidence against the rationality thesis.
The looks of frustration on the faces of the strong students in class B was deeply saddening. I was trying my best but today I just couldn’t create the environment that they deserve.
Let’s compare productivity between the two classes:
- Class B: the disruptive students did not get much from the class, nor did the presence of strong students seem to improve their attitudes. Meanwhile, the strong students were constantly waiting for us to proceed so that they could get the information they needed. The net result: the disruptive students have not benefited from being in a mixed class. But the top students have suffered.
- Class A had no impediments to productivity, and was so functional and mature that they were able to work independently, a welcome deviation from our typical, more traditional lessons. They were working at capacity.
The conclusion? Top students gained from streaming. The top students suffer from mixed ability, while the disruptive students have not gained. Given the level of disengagement in the mixed class, I can’t imagine worse behaviour in their streamed class will have much of a negative impact compared to the mixed class. They simply weren’t paying adequate attention in the mixed class for the presence of top students to have any positive effect. These students got very little to nothing from this lesson.
From this small sample, I conclude: streaming is better.