The paths to "Eureka" moments: Teaching Mathematics in Secondary Education

Posts tagged ‘Sorting Students’

America’s Teachers, Chapter 8

“Sorting” Students

Students can be sorted by ability in academics, preference of educational focus, geographical location, career goals, and age. Sorting of students is often used to put them in project or activity groups. This is best done when groups are equal, working cooperatively and not competitively.

Differences between Expectations

In public high schools in 2005, it was found that while 70 percent of upper and upper-middle class students were enrolled in college preparatory classes, only 25 percent of lower-working class students were taking those same classes. Conversely, there were no students of the upper and upper-middle class students enrolled in “track three” classes, yet 20 percent of lower-working class students took “track-three” classes (Newman 273).  These statistics are the reason many educators assume lower-class students should automatically place lower than upper-class students.


As a home school student, I was not subjected to many forms of “tracking” in elementary or secondary school. I did work through several courses which were defined as “Advanced Placement (AP)” courses or “College Prep”. These courses, specifically calculus, biology, and chemistry were slightly more advanced and work intensive than the general courses in their respective subject. Through sports in the local public middle and high schools, I observed several of my peers and their involvement in “tracking” programs. One specific program I recall was called “foundations”. This was simply a euphemism for a repeated pre-algebra course in high school. Students in this class recognized their “failure” and assumed that they were not smart because of their enrollment.

Race or Ethnicity

In understanding students, ethnicity is far more significant than race. In knowing a student’s race, I simply am able to observe the color of his or her skin. However, if I am knowledgeable of the student’s ethnicity, I will understand his or her cultural background. This information is much more useful to me as a teacher. When I know that John is Hispanic American, I will better understand the traditions he and his family may participate in, as well as consider his abilities with the English language if any initial concerns arise. If I know that Cindy is Japanese American, I will better understand her social behaviors as well as her home expectations. Individually, knowing a student’s ethnicity will not answer all of my questions or concerns. Not all children from a certain ethnicity will behave in a manner considered the ethnic norm or generalization. Yet, by having a basic understanding of different ethnic cultures, I will be able to better know my students.


The most common form of segregation that I have observed in schools has been that of De Facto. Students simply are attracted to people similar to themselves. In my years at Olympic College, the black students in my classes always sat together, even if they had never met before the first class date. A similar example is found in cultural segregation. Students who appeared to be from “the ghetto” sat next to each other, while those who came from the suburban more preppy areas also tended to group together. In both examples, students chose segregation. However, each group was represented in the larger class and interacted regularly with the other groups and benefited from cooperative learning.

Bilingual Education

Bilingual education is controversial because educators and the government are continually trying to close the achievement gap between English Language Learners (ELL’s), and those who already speak English as their first language. Basically, those with English as their first language are able to outperform ELL students to such a degree, that educators recognize that a change must be made. There are four types of bilingual education that educators have experimented with:  immersion, English as a Second Language (ESL), transitional bilingual, and bilingual/bicultural maintenance. Immersion places ELL students in the traditional classroom for the entire school day, though the teachers often speak a bit slower for better understanding. English as a Second language has ELL’s in the traditional classroom for part of the day, and then “pulls them out” to go to a special class with certified teachers in ESL to for the other part of the day. Traditional bilingual education  require bilingual teachers to work directly with ELL students to help them move along in the traditional classroom setting. The last method, bilingual/bicultural maintenance teaches all children two languages. There is still much controversy over this issue as no one method has been found to completely close the achievement gap.

Role in Gender Equity

As a teacher, it is my role to assist in closing the gender gap and maintaining gender equity in my classroom and school. This will occur through equal scoring, praising, and attention given to students. As a math teacher, I will encourage both boys and girls toward success in my classroom. It is my belief, that any student, regardless of gender, can learn the basics of algebra, trigonometry and geometry if they are willing to put forth the effort to learn. It will be my role to teach by example. I will equally respect both peers and superiors of both gender not only because it is the right philosophy to have, but because I am an example to my students through my life.



Newman, J.W. (2006). America’s teachers: an introduction to education. White Plains, N.Y.: Allyn & Bacon.