Every Day We’re Shufflin’

We are back to school-based professional development today (pretty much as soon as I send in this blog, actually).

Context: As part of MTBoSBlaugust, mathematics teachers from the Mathematics Twitter Blog-o-Sphere are posting one blog a day for the month of August. It’s not too late to join in.

Our school uses a cohort-based model. Especially for 9th and 10th graders, it fosters a greater sense of community and is a huge support for some of our kiddos who have less schooling and are still adjusting to the idea of being in a United States school for the first time (and for a few each year, being in a school of any sort at all). As such, we put a bit of thought into who goes into which cohort. Most of the schools in our network use a heterogeneous class model – no tracking and students of all abilities are in the same class. (We apparently tried tracking one year and our school is so small that it threw off the culture of the school).

We recently sat down to look at cohorts from next year and shuffle students around as needed. This is something that I helped with last year.

Things I try to look for when thinking about cohorts:

  • Levels of English, Academics and School Skills: Is there a mix of English, Academics, and School Skills? Which is to say, a general range of these skills throughout the cohort with at least a few students who have more of these skills in each class. We try to think intentionally about status and are looking for ways to talk about students’ abilities without resorting to a “high”/”low” dichotomy (especially since there are very valid reasons for so many of the range of abilities that we see).
  • Mix of languages: If the goal is to have kiddos speak English, a mix of languages help. We had a decent mix last year (60% Spanish, 25% Cantonese or Mandarin and a few others thrown in). 2 years ago, I frequently had 23 Spanish speakers and 2 non-Spanish speakers in a class. I had more trouble getting those kiddos to speak English (though many of them made huge gains this year with more languages). Recently, I’m also trying to look for languages that the District doesn’t tell us about. We have students who come from Spanish-speaking countries but speak indigenous languages. I’m thinking about how we can place those students together (which is hard since we often don’t realize they speak another language until after they’ve been placed).
  • Mix of Personalities: It’s high school. Some kiddos are super supportive to each other. Some kiddos drive each other crazy (especially after a day being in the same cohort). We try and take this into account.
  • Other Factors: We look at a couple other factors too. Does a student have interrupted education (and thus will likely need more support)? Does a student have an Individualized Education Plan (and will probably need more support)? IEPs are rare at our school as the District won’t test students when they first arrive (in a well-meaning, yet sometimes frustrating effort to keep students from unnecessarily being placed in special education when they don’t need it). For my own interest, I try and figure out which cities and countries students are from. Too many students from one country (or city, even) can throw off the character of a cohort. And knowing what town a student is from can help give insights into what other languages they might speak and what their schooling experience was like.

Aight, back to work. We who are about to professionally develop salute you.

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