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Mixed-Ability Groups Win Teacher Converts

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"Teachers find that they are really unable to teach to the middle, which is what we've all tended to do for so long,'' says Jane Denton, an English teacher at Saginaw's Arthur Hill High School and K-12 language arts coordinator for the city's schools. "Now, we have to remember to challenge that higher-skilled student and to bring along the lower-skilled student.''

In addition to the different grouping practices, some teachers also keep the same set of students for two years. Instruction mainly revolves around reading and writing; vocabulary, spelling, and grammar are related to the assignments when necessary.

As a result of these changes, students are doing as well or better than before, when they were in tracked classes, says Sharon Floyd, a teacher and head of the language arts department at Saginaw High School. Floyd tells of one student who had struggled for years in low-level classes. She was placed in one of the newly grouped classes where she was able to emulate the behavior of the top students, and she was thrilled when she earned a C in the class, Floyd says.

The new system has Floyd herself excited about teaching. "It's more work, but it's more fun,'' she says. "I enjoy going to work every day.''

Adds Denton: "The teachers say they will never, no matter what happens, teach the way they did before. They can see the growth their kids have made in class.'' --D.G.

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