My school, a K-8 facility has a mission statement (which I'll paraphrase) that says "All children will be taught in their zone of proximal development". This is a noble sentiment which I fully support and aspire to. Unfortunately, my 7th grade math student's abilities range from 3rd through 11th grade based upon the NWEA Measures of Performance (a highly regarded national evaluation). This enormous dispersion is not new. On the contrary, it is chronic and well aged, like a fine New England Cheddar, and it makes a mockery of our mission statement.
Over the summer, my middle school peers and our administration worked on various schemes to address this conflict in light of reduced resources (teachers) and state/district mandates for a failing school under NCLB regs. It is simply not rational to think that you can teach in a zone of proximal development (ZPD) in a classroom with a nine year spread in capabilities.
The consensus that we reached was to take the middle school model we were working under and blow it up. We proposed to place all middle schoolers (6-8) regardless of age, grade level, or hat size, into cohorts whose memberships were determined by academic readiness and to allow for periodic assessments that would allow kids to migrate as their performance dictated. To the extent that we had the resources to support a number of such 'ZPD pods' we would create as many cohorts as possible and each teacher would take on a range of such groups in shortened, focused, classes.
This proposal was not accepted for a variety of reasons. Some of them had to do with scheduling challenges and some had to do with the MCAS (Massachusetts state testing) mandated NCLB assessments. Bottom line is that only one reason is a legitimate show stopper at the upper reaches of our district. There is a huge fear that if we teach kids in their ZPD, say a 4th grade capable student gets 4th grade curriculum, then they won't do well on their grade level MCAS assessment.
GAAAAAACK! Of course they won't but neither will they do well on the very same assessment if they are forced to spend a year sitting through a 7th grade curriculum that is being delivered 15,000 feet over their poor heads. Worse, if we insist (as is interminably true) in the perversity of a mission statement that is wholly at odds with our delivery system, those very same 4th grade capable students become rancorous sores in the classroom, denying the kind of environment that breeds success for those few students who may be lucky enough to have a repertoire that is in synch with the delivery.
A quarter of the way into the year, we have learned that way too many kids are failing (surprise) to meet the minimal requirements for their grade level standards. In an 'emergency' meeting, we were informed that it was our duty (as teachers) to work together to solve this problem in an innovative, collaborative way. After much discussion it was agreed to come up with a plan to - drum roll inserted here - break up the middle school into 'ZPD cohorts', come up with a schedule, etc.
I'm just a gerbil on a wheel. No! No! Wait. I'm on the wheel and I'm singing "I Am the Walrus". Did you know that John Lennon wrote that song while on an acid trip? He supposedly received a letter from a teacher who was having his students analyze Beatles lyrics. He was amused at this and resolved to write an incomprehensible lyric based on "Through The Looking Glass".
If he was a teacher he wouldn't have needed acid or Lewis Carroll.