I’m generally not a huge fan of streaming. There’s a lot about it that I don’t like – in some schools, I see it being used as a tool to punish children. Having said that, I’ve been contemplating the way that it might work in schools that I’ve worked in. Ultimately, my dream – and it’s a dream that is potentially possible, considering the resources available to us in technology and online contexts – is that every single child should have a personalised learning plan that outlines what they are doing and why they are doing that, and how they will know once they have succeeded. But that takes careful planning and working towards – and a lot of teacher professional learning around restructuring the classroom in completely different ways. One cannot simply do it overnight. So, then, the question remains, what can be done in the meantime to best meet the needs of every child in the classroom? I’m conscious that I am rehashing old stories about differentiation and personalisation, and I am doing it deliberately, because I think that it is important – when your average classroom has students working at 5 different year levels at any one time, then how can a teacher hope to cope with that? The answer, of course, is that it’s very difficult – almost impossible to – and that means most teachers simply end up teaching to the middle, and that means students at the top and bottom ends are left out – bored, disengaged, barely there students. And therein lie a lot of problems that teachers face.
So, sometimes, schools implement streaming or setting – I even heard it called platooning, once. Basically, you take all your bright kids and put them into one class, and then work your way down until you get to the least bright kids, who go in a class at the bottom. In theory, it sounds good, right? Here’s a chance for students to get the tuition they need at a level they can access. The reality is somewhat more tricky – students quickly work out when they are placed in the bottom class – and teachers certainly know when that’s the case, too – so this can mean that there is a ‘bottom-group’ mentality, or as a principal of mine once put it – you’re building ghettoes.
Again, that’s true, too. But I think that’s a weakness in the anti-streaming argument – because that shows a weakness in a teacher’s ability to motivate and engage students. Yes, they might be in the bottom group, but a good teacher should be able to encourage and motivate them along the lines of extra support and assistance – let them be the leaders of their own learning, rather than being the ‘dummy group’. Of course, that brings up back to point one – where do you get teachers who can do that?