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Mixed-Age Classrooms

Although multiage and multigrade classrooms are increasingly common in schools around the world, teachers and parents generally oppose the arrangement, arguing that overall learning suffers when teachers have to contend with such a wide range of student abilities. A new European study, however, published in the Winter 1995 Review of Educational Research, suggests that these concerns are unfounded. Simon Veenman, a researcher at the University of Nijmegen in the Netherlands, analyzed 56 studies from 12 countries. He separated the research into two groups--studies involving schools that were mixing grades for economic reasons and those involving schools trying out the idea for pedagogical reasons. He labeled the two groups "multigrade" and "multiage," respectively. Veenman found that, for the most part, students in multigrade classrooms do not learn more or less than students in single-grade classrooms. What's more, their attitudes toward school and themselves are no different than those of their peers in more homogeneous settings. Veenman also found that multiage classrooms do not have any real effect on student achievement. They do, however, produce a slight improvement in the way students feel about school and themselves. "These classes are simply no worse, and simply no better, than single-grade or single-age classes," Veenman concludes. Still, he calls for better training for teachers who have to work in these reconfigured settings. "Teacher training institutions should acknowledge that the multigrade/multiage class is a present and future reality," he writes.

Esteem And Violence

Common wisdom has long held that low self-esteem can lead to a host of disturbing social problems, ranging from unemployment to murder. Schools have tried to do their part to fend off those outcomes by taking steps to boost children's self-confidence. But a new and potentially controversial report published in the February 1996 issue of Psychological Review calls into question this view. Researchers Roy Baumeister and Joseph Boden of Case Western Reserve University and Laura Smart of the University of Virginia contend that high, not low, self-esteem may be a cause of violence. As part of their study, the researchers reviewed dozens of empirical studies from several disciplines on people with hostile tendencies. They looked at data on murderers, rapists, violent young gang members, and spouse abusers. They also reviewed studies on political terrorism, genocide, prejudice, and oppression. In some of the studies, the aggressors' self-esteem had been directly measured; in others, it had to be inferred. Rather than feeling negative about themselves, the researchers write, "violent and criminal individuals have been repeatedly characterized as arrogant, confident, narcissistic, egotistical, assertive, proud, and the like." Moreover, the offenders became violent when their highly favorable--and often unrealistic--view of themselves was challenged. "The societal pursuit of high self-esteem for everyone," Baumeister and his colleagues conclude, "may therefore end up doing considerable harm."

Boys, Girls, And Math

Do boys do better in math than girls? The question has been a subject of controversy for years. In the latest study on the matter, University of British Columbia researcher Xin Ma offers an international perspective. For his master's thesis, Ma re-examined data on 13-year-olds and high school seniors from the 1982 Second International Mathematics Study to compare male and female students in Canada, Hong Kong, and Japan. Within each setting, he found that female students at both age levels scored just as well as their male counterparts in algebra and geometry. He did find, however, some slight differences when he looked across the entire testing population. Analyzed that way, the data showed that male high school seniors had a slight edge over their female counterparts in geometry. But among 13-year-olds, both genders performed equally well. "If the gender gaps in algebra and geometry are fairly small up to the age of 13," Ma writes, "it is reasonable to suggest that boys and girls may not be born with different abilities in mathematics." His study was published in the November/December 1995 issue of The Journal of Educational Research.

--Debra Viadero

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