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Education is a such a fluid concept. There are always changes based on constant flows of research and practical implementation data. Here are some of the trends that are hot topics in educational communities at the moment as well as some of the pros and cons of the issues.

Academic Ability Grouping

Ability grouping, also known as tracking, is the practice of grouping children together according to their talents in the classroom.

Pros: Grouping students by academic level allows the teacher to teach students at their specific level. The teacher can easily provide intervention or enrichment to the group with nobody feeling left out or bored or confused. It also allows the teacher to differentiate the lesson in an effective way.

Cons: In elementary school, these groups are usually divided in the classroom. However, in higher grades these divisions are often made by class choices. The concern is that the more we separate the students, the less opportunity they have to grow. For example, in the elementary school model, all students are still part of the classroom, have exposure to the grade level curriculum and activities, and have excellent peer role models. When classes become more divided, these critical pieces pieces are not always present.

Technology

Computer programs in education are taking center stage as the programs are developed and fine-tuned.

Pros: Advances in technology have changed the game with regard to online learning. There are now excellent computer programs for students who are struggling in school as well as students who are advanced beyond their grade level. These programs are founded in research-based learning and grow with your child’s unique needs. Many of these computer programs can analyze errors, provide instruction and support and measure learning. There are excellent programs for intervention and enrichment in the areas of reading, math, robotics, and even various languages. When learning becomes more specialized in higher grades, these innovative, competitive programs can be an amazing supplement.

Cons: Kids are often inundated with technology at home and at school. While academic programs are becoming better and better, these programs are not a substitute for teacher-led instruction. A computer program cannot provide the teaching moments and the genuine understanding that a teacher brings to the learning environment. I

Response to Intervention (RTI)

RTI is a model that helps to identify students who are struggling through universal screening tests, identify specific areas of weakness, and match areas of weakness to a research-based intervention. As the intervention is implemented, a student’s progress is monitored. If the data shows that the intervention isn’t effective, the teacher can change to another intervention strategy.

Pros: The RTI model has many strengths, including that the intervention can begin right away and can be implemented in the regular education classroom with the child’s teacher. There is no need for additional testing or a specialized teacher. Progress is monitored and then reviewed. The intervention, area of skill deficit, and progress monitoring tools are all closely tied together.

Cons: Implementing these interventions with fidelity takes time during the school day and adequate staff to implement the procedures. Sometimes these areas are a struggle for schools. Another con might be that, in the beginning, these intervention procedures do not differentiate between children who are struggling in one area and students who have a disability. However, that distinction is made later in the RTI process.

Peer Tutoring

Peer tutoring involves having a same-age peer work with another student who is struggling.

Pros: Peer tutoring can help the child who is struggling as well as increase the skills of the peer who is doing the teaching. Students are often more comfortable with same-age peers. Peer tutoring is easy to customize; it can be for just one assignment or for an entire unit. In a perfect setting, all students would have the ability to be a peer tutor throughout the school year.

Cons: While peer tutoring can free up the teacher’s time during lessons and increase the peer tutor’s skills, it can also present a problem in terms of time. Peer tutors must be trained before being given assignments. In addition, they need to be monitored and assessed, which takes more time and energy from teachers and the school.

While all of these programs bring merit to education, the key is how they are actually implemented. In some cases, these programs are just thrown at classroom teachers, who are left to implement the details and monitor the programs. However, with the right support and assistance, there's great potential to help students and teachers.

Tracy Christman is a psychologist with the Milwaukee Public Schools and a mother of two boys.

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