TER #199 – Effects of Class Streaming with Olivia Johnston – 22 June 2022

Main Feature: Olivia Johnston discusses her research into student perceptions of the eperience of class streaming; Deb Netolicky talks about her new podcast, the Edu Salon

Regular Features: Kolber’s Corner, Steven Kolber discusses using papercraft bingo as an approach to retrieval practice; Ideology in Education, Tom Mahoney discusses t curriculum as an inherrently ideological space.

Join our episode 200 Q&A at https://terpodcast.com/2022/06/14/join-our-episode-200-qa/

Timecodes:

00:00:00 Opening Credits
00:01:31 Intro
00:04:12 Kolber’s Corner
00:11:13 Ideology in Education
00:18:22 Deb Netolicky – The Edu Salon Podcast
00:32:25 Feature Intro
00:34:30 Interview – Olivia Johnston
01:12:19 Patron Shout Outs
01:14:01 Announcements

Links:

Support TER Podcast at www.Patreon.com/TERPodcast

Read more for transcripts

Transcripts:

  1. Kolber’s Corner
  2. Ideology in Education
  3. Feature Interview

1 Kolber’s Corner

Hello, lovely people, welcome back to Kolber’s corner for another fortnight. So this is a very simple teaching, teaching idea that I sort of stumbled upon. So very simple, get a piece of paper, ask a conscientious student to fold it up into 16 squares. So you know, depending on the size of the paper, well, it all always be consistent, really, I’m not really a big papercraft person. But I imagined mathematically, that’s how it works. So essentially, you want a large piece of paper, a four, a three, whatever it is, you want, basically, it folded so that it forms little boxes. So once you have that, you can then and obviously, depending on the age group structure it differently. But on one side, you want a definition. And on the other side, you want either an example or an explanation. So there’s kind of a way I haven’t seen elsewhere, they maybe haven’t looked at enough of doing retrieval practice getting students to sort of summarize, synthesize, whatever it is, I’m always constantly impressed by Courtney Crawford’s work like Hawaiian skirts, like if you think of the, you know, lost dog, or, you know, nude posing for like, artists, those kinds of things, where you buy the sidewalk, you know, pressing the button and waiting for, you can take one off, and sort of with a phone number, and all those things on it. And getting students to make those is another way that, you know, is something on my to do list of getting students to use that as a method to retrieve information, tear it off and match it up and do all those sort of things there. But so essentially, you’re getting similar idea, getting students to fold it up definitions, examples, on opposite sides. And then what I’ve been what I’ve just worked out that I can then do with that is much more complicated than I care to admit there was a lot of time me sitting, standing in front of a class thinking, Oh, God, what, what am I doing? How is this going to work out. So I pitched it as essentially bingo. But of course, I don’t really know how to play bingo, because I’m not an octogenarian. So unfortunately, I had to sort of just wing it. But so each each one of the students or groups in this case, regardless of how user set it out, socially, you’ve got 16 squares, then you get students to either draw up their own grid. And they they of course, know the content in theory of one of the sides, because they’ve at least done that. But then they’ve been exposed to other students different examples of different definitions or different explanations. And so then basically, reverse engineering, what another group of students or individuals an individual student has created on that content. So I’m hoping this is making sense to me, it is in my head, and I can picture it because I have a piece of paper scrunched up over on the table next to me. But so then, ideally, for a younger year, so what I’ve just done recently is typed out all the definitions, the 16 definitions that we’re working with for this particular class, obviously, you could have multiple sets of definitions for older students, they could be around different topics, different themes, but the core idea stays the same. Once you you’re getting them to produce multiple examples. And I just to me, I think this idea has great utility, because I know, you know, many new first year out type type teachers would be sitting up late at night writing up Kahoots, whereas they, you know, a truly experienced teacher knows to steal other people’s resources and use them, even if they’re not perfect, they are better than staying up late making your eye. So this is one way of getting students non digitally old fashioned pen and paper to be producing a mass, massive output of examples, and sort of illustrations of the thing that you’re trying to teach. So then, once they’ve done that, you’ve got a whole pile of them sitting in the front in front of you, you can hand out to the students or get them to draw up depending on resourcing and organization, a grid of just just one side, so the top side, then the terms, the the essential information, and then you’re providing them with all of the actual examples that their peers have provided. And so there’s a really good way to I mean, obviously look for errors and mistakes, that’s something that you’ll be reading out loud the examples or the explanations or the definitions to students, and you can kind of cut them off at the pass if you think that they’re incorrect or inaccurate. But also I think there’s real value in that as well, in peers saying, you know, well, that one’s not right. And then, you know, probably the person who wrote it recognizes the one that they’ve written. And they might have a misconception and as Jared Cooney Horvath In his book, stop speaking, start influencing talks about kind of the error alarm, you want them to trigger the error alarm and realize that I’ve made an error there. And so this kind of activities, sort of a really turbo way of getting them to do that. So again, you reading out all of the explanations, definitions, examples, whatever they are on the back, and students are then numbering off in order, the 15,16,25, whatever it is, depending on the age group that you’re working with, in that order. And as you’re reading them out, you’re just recording, which one was reading what order, and then you’re then going to write out, you know, with a with a little number and a little circle in each box, the order that you know, they should have them. And then you can get students to obviously mock themselves and they can get an impression of how, how close to perfect they are with their understanding of each of the concepts that are being taught. So just something that I sort of stumbled upon. Again, I’m sure people have done it in the past, people have done it before. But to my knowledge, it’s not something that I consciously conjured out of my brain, but something I sort of stumbled upon and ran with that I thought was really effective, cheap, and, you know, relatively straightforward. So that’s my little attempt at a teaching strategy that has been exciting for me in the moment. Till next time, keep reading, keep writing, keep learning

2 Ideology in Education – Tom Mahoney

Welcome to ideology in education. You may be aware that the ninth version of the Australian curriculum has recently been approved by Australia’s education ministers and is set to be released or ready to go for 2023. Now, this comes off the back of some rather heated debates. Following the initial review. In 2021. You may recall, some media out rage and particular Education Minister sharing his particular thoughts about this curriculum. And the initial concerns were that the curriculum had become an ideological site that was being influenced by education faculties, in universities for the worse of our students. There were controversies in a few areas to do with the curriculum. But in this episode, I want to focus specifically on mathematics. There was a concern that the revisions to the Australian Curriculum promoted a particular way of teaching and learning when it comes to mathematics. It should come as no surprise that a revision to a curriculum would bring about so many emotive responses from different kinds of people. But what I find interesting is the comment that apparently, the revision meant that the Australian Curriculum had now become an ideological site. I think it’s important to note, as I usually do, that the curriculum is inherently an ideological site. Because it sets a definitive direction for what ought to be happening in schools, as well as describing what and how teachers should be teaching. It’s a political push for what should be happening in schools and becomes the measure through which we understand educational quality. Now, the core issue, as I see it, was that the revised curriculum highlighted some tensions between a number of ideologies seeking to dominate in the Australian Curriculum, I would suggest these to be progressive ideologies, such as child centered approaches, or learner centered approaches, and ideologies of efficiency. When it came to the review of the mathematics curriculum, there was an intentional decision made to move towards more problem based and investigative approaches to teaching mathematics. This was made quite clear in all the videos and documentation on release of the revision of the Australian Curriculum. But these changes were attacked by many as vague, and accused ACARA of pushing a particular kind of teaching style, which was seen as inquiry based learning. My response to that is that of course, the curriculum document is going to push a certain teaching style. Because it is an ideological site inherently, it’s going to have a certain perspective of what ought to be happening in schools, and how teachers ought to be teaching particular things, and in this case, mathematics. And so there were critiques from many. And in particular, there are a lot of critiques in relation to the fact that a curriculum should be clear on its outcomes. And it’s important to add here, often the reason that certain individuals or in organizations and people want to have clear outcomes, it’s so that we can measure the inputs and outputs of education. It sees education as an input output mechanism. So because of this, there was a huge push for ACARA to change the curriculum. Because of the critique. And a lot of the I guess we can say outrage in relation to the revision. A lot of the mathematics curriculum has been changed. A lot of those inquiry investigative approaches have been removed. It’s been made very explicit. And so what we’ve seen is the mathematics curriculum, has now reverted back to maybe what we could call more conservative approaches to teaching of mathematics. So rather than coming to some neutral position, what we’re doing is now we’re just coming back to an emphasis on instruction as the preferred teaching approach rather than pulling from different perspectives, or focusing specifically on one perspective, such as a learner centered or investigative approach. Can you see where I’m getting at here? That a curriculum document, of course is going to favor certain teaching approaches. The curriculum in itself is quite an immovable object. It’s quite rigid in its form, and especially in Australia. We don’t necessarily have an open curriculum that says, teachers can do what they want, necessarily, you can interpret that how you want to, but because of that, there is ultimately going to be some restrictions on the kinds of teaching strategies that will be used. What I find interesting about the instruction approach is that often when making mention to the value of the approach, they’re often cited as ‘what works’ without necessarily looking deeply into that whole question of why is that important? Well it’s important for measurement. What else isn’t important for? So it’s my argument that rather than moving the mathematics curriculum back to a supposedly ideologically neutral position, it now finds itself strongly embedded within a particular way of seeing education and more specifically, mathematics education. So that just leaves you with a question here. If the Australian Curriculum does, in fact, push a certain teaching style, what space is there for mathematics teachers to move beyond that? I’ll leave that with you. Until next time, take care

3. Feature Interview

Cameron Malcher

Joining me now from Edith Cowan University is Olivia Johnston. Olivia, thank you for your time.

Olivia Johnston

Hi, thanks for having me.

Cameron Malcher

The topic of your recent research that’s been getting a bit of attention has been student perceptions of class streaming. But before we get to your particular research, can we talk about the topic of class streaming more broadly? The first of all, how do you actually define streaming? And I suppose what kind of spectrum of school operations does that term cover?

Olivia Johnston

Yeah, that’s a really good question. And it’s important to start with that question, because it actually means different things depending on where we’re talking about streaming. So here in Australia, we tend to use the word streaming to talk about any ability grouping, and I use ability in quotation marks. Because that can mean different things as well. But here in Australia, we talk about ability, grouping, and streaming synonymously. The research that I do is really interested in ability grouping between classes in secondary school. So it’s putting students into different classrooms physically, based on the again, quote, unquote, ability. So in some countries, like the UK, they use different language to describe this. And similarly in the in the United States, so they mean different things by the word streaming. So it’s important to clarify what what you mean, when you use the word. And we tend to use the word to describe even like school based streaming, we’ll say in Australia, where it’s like that school is completely academic select. So it’s fully streamed. And that’s very different in different in other countries. They don’t they don’t use the language in that way. So we’re pretty unique here in Australia, and how we use the word.

Cameron Malcher 

And I mean, you mentioned academic selective schools, is streaming a practice that happens primarily, or even just differently at the level of school selection, as opposed to the level of in school class operation, like how does streaming look at different levels of school system operation?

Olivia Johnston 

Yeah, so here in Western Australia, where all my research has been based to date, we only have one academic select school. But there are several schools that offer gifted and talented education programs where they select students by merit for that program. And that’s based on testing and things like that. And most private schools do offer a gifted and talented or sort of top what I would call stream or top ability group within the school. So there’s no policy direction about this, except that we do have that one gifted and talented school. And that’s especially for students who have been academically selected. But my research so far hasn’t been interested in that it’s more about what happens within the secondary school. And the decisions that the school makes about how to sort those students into groups and why that’s done, and what that’s like for the students in my most recent research. So does that answer your question?

Cameron Malcher 

Yeah, absolutely. So so when we do look at practices of streaming, particularly in school streaming, where does this practice originate from in your understanding, what what’s the actual background behind it?

Olivia Johnston 

That’s a really good question. And it’s a very long story. But in a nutshell, we’ve inherited it from from Britain, from our educational ancestors in Britain, and we’ve modeled our education system here, based on the British education system, it’s also been influenced by the United States. And both of these countries used ability grouping or streaming in a similar way that we do here in Australia. So it’s comparable in that way, where it’s decided within schools, and schools do it quite differently. They call it different things, like I mentioned before, but I think there’s also you know, the ancestry of ideas about intelligence quotients, and things like that, like IQs, and different students having different inherent capacities to succeed at school. But it’s interesting that that sort of view of intelligence is becoming increasingly outdated now, but we’re still using this system. So yeah, there’s that. But I do think there’s also versus my perspective, I think there’s a natural tendency that we have as people to like to sort of categorize people. And it’s something that we like, I think, we need to be very conscious of how our brain does that. And to question that tendency to categorize people. So I think it is quite a natural solution to this idea that students are different. So let’s just put them in groups according to how they’re different. It’s quite logical for the way that our mind works. Yeah, so that’s, I mean, giving you a few different answers there. I think that’s sort of how, how I see it in terms of why why we do this, where we’ve got the practice from.

Cameron Malcher 

Well, you mentioned that again, one of the key manifestations of streaming is the idea of academically selective schools or academically selective classes within schools. How uniform or perhaps even how rigorous are those selection processes because, as you say, our collective and you know, the research into IQ and intelligence and things that might be selected for is ever changing. And even the very notion of intelligence is a bit problematic and a diversified concept. So how effective and accurate are those selection processes?

Olivia Johnston 

That’s another A great question. And I think it’s very eclectic how this process is done here in WA, I can say that anecdotally, and in my research that different schools use different processes. So there’s three main areas that schools tend to use to put students into these groups. So one is standardized tests. And schools will often draw on NAPLAN results to put students into groups, some schools will do that straight at the beginning of year seven for secondary school. So students arrive in year seven, and they’ve been put into ability groups classes based on their previous NAPLAN results from year five. And that does happen. And I know, examples in my research of that being the case, other ways that this is done is there sort of wait for a while through year seven, and maybe in year eight, or even year nine or 10, they put the students into groups based on up and upper pathways. So where students are going to have it in secondary school by year 10. But sometimes earlier on, it can happen based on teacher recommendations as well. So there’s also the school based testing, and how they perform on report cards. But then there’s the ABE or application behavior and effort. And that can actually in some schools play a very large role in what how students are allocated based on teacher recommendations. Best practice, as as suggested by research coming from the United Kingdom, which is a comparable context, not exactly the same, but is to just use current achievement data, and to make sure that these students are being assigned to in a flexible way. So the concern is that they get categorized quite early based on, you know, a test from one day or whatever, and that they’re then locked into that group. And they perform according to you know, how they’re expected to perform in that group, and they don’t change. And so that’s obviously the concern. So embedding some flexibility in that is is important too.

Cameron Malcher 

So as a policy, or is an approach to education management, ultimately, what goal is streaming as a practice meant to achieve? And based on your reading, does it actually achieve that goal?

Olivia Johnston 

That’s yeah, there’s a lot to say about that as well. So I think particularly I look at streaming in years seven to 10. So ability grouping within the school, in your seven to 10. Because once you hit year 11. In Australia, it’s basically mandated that their stream to because they’re on different academic pathways at that point, so they kind of they do their ATAR subjects, if they’re going to get an ATAR, or they don’t, but your 10 and below, it’s up to the school, whether or not they do this. So I look at your seven to 10 specifically, isn’t achieving its goals in year seven to 10. We don’t have Australia specific data about that, I want to do some research on that. If we look at the international data, there is a lot of evidence to suggest that student educational outcomes, and this includes PISA data, actually, so there is some data from Australia, if you look at the Program for International Student Assessment data, and that ability grouping doesn’t improve educational outcomes for students. So academic outcomes are not improved through ability grouping on the whole, it might be beneficial for some students in some times. But when you look at the big picture, it doesn’t seem to help. What it does do is create some social issues around sort of social segregation of students according to their backgrounds, which can include like their race and their class, like their ethnicity. So you end up with students in in a lower stream within the school that are from a particular disadvantaged background already. And it’s it’s serving to segregate them in that way, which is, you know, concerning based on our history of segregating people, according to race profiling, and things like that. And other reasons as well. Psychologically, there’s a lot of evidence that students self concepts and beliefs in their cells are actually damaged through this process on the whole. Again, that’s not the case for all students. There’s a lot of qualitative evidence that some students do experience it positively. But the overall quantitative data for the big picture, including data from Australia, it just shows that student, I mean, it’s called different things like confidence, academic self concept, academic self belief, different research uses different constructs. But on the whole, there’s stuff coming out of the UK right now about confidence that is very clearly showing that these that students develop more confidence in their ability to succeed at school and in life, generally, when they’re in mixed ability settings. So yeah,

Cameron Malcher 

so just to make sure I understand you correctly, you’re saying that internationally, there’s no evidence to support the idea that streaming has a positive effect on academic outcomes. But there is a lot of evidence to suggest it has significant negative effects on students from sort of the social emotional side and their motivation and self efficacy.

Olivia Johnston 

Yeah. And look, I’m not I wouldn’t, I don’t mean to make a sweeping statement that it never works in any context. There is certainly evidence that it has worked in some contexts for different purposes, using different models. But when you look at the big picture about all students and sort of the large scale data, then yeah, that’s that is the case. But there are lots of little interesting exceptions. And I mean, I guess one of the major points to make on the other side is about gifted and talented education. There is a lot of research that this is a beneficial practice. That’s not my area of expertise. I don’t I’m not an expert in gifted and talented recommendation. Sorry, education, but a lot of recommendations for gifted and talented education include this as a way to meet their needs is one option. So that there is that out there. And there’s a lot especially in Australia, there is a lot of evidence supporting the benefits of the practice for those students.

Cameron Malcher 

Okay, so maybe, maybe the better way to put it, then is that there’s not really broad conclusive evidence that it has a positive effect on academic outcomes for most students. Do you have any sense then as to why it is such a popular policy or popular approach? I mean, you mentioned that people have a tendency to want to categorize people. But is there anything more to the reason why it is something that is so heavily pursued in many schools and school systems?

Olivia Johnston 

Yeah, sorry, I probably didn’t emphasize that enough before. I think educators sincerely believe that this helps them do their jobs, in a lot of cases. And I think it’s important to look at that and how that’s the case for them. And I did some research with teachers in one school, where I explored this further with them, they really have a perception that it makes their job easier in terms of differentiating for student needs. So they’re able to say, well, this class needs this, this class needs this, and this class needs this. And unfortunately, that’s quite dangerous, because within any classes, still lots of diversity, and still a great need to differentiate. So I think, you know, if teachers are looking at it as differentiation is done, then that’s really problematic. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes they do see it as okay, it just narrows the range of what what I’m dealing with, in terms of what I have to deliver. I’m not sure that that’s true, either. But that is certainly their perspective that it makes their job easier and more manageable to meet the students needs. And they do think that the students benefit. So it’s, you know,

Cameron Malcher 

so then, with your research, specifically, you were looking at students perceptions of the experience of streaming, can you outline for us what your research was more broadly investigating?

Olivia Johnston 

Sure. So this paper that we’re talking about today, and that that portion of the research came out of a larger study about actually about teachers, expectations of students. So what I was asking the students was about how their teachers have different expectations of them in different classes and classes. And my interest in streaming stimulated a lot of conversation around that. And it came up organically in the discussion of how classes were different in terms of teachers expectations, as well. So, um, what I did was I worked with 25 students for one week each. So over the course of 25 weeks, and in three different schools, followed them to all of their classes, and then spoke with them afterwards about what happened in the classes in terms of their teachers, expectations of them. And a lot of them had experience different were in different streams for different subjects, or had experienced recent transitions in in the groups that they were in. And they were able to reflect on that. And I could ask them more questions about that. And, and they, they really found that they had, depending on the stream that they were in, or if they were in mixed ability, or not streamed classes, they were the opportunities that they were offered to learn were varied. So they were getting a different curriculum, different assessments, different exams, based on what stream they’re in. There, they also talked about their teacher’s long term aspirations for them being more on a university pathway slash ATAR for the higher streams, whereas like the lower streams, it was kind of just they thought the teachers were just keeping them busy and just get this done now, and that’s it kind of thing. And another one that really came through, which is perhaps unsurprising is about the environments for learning. So the idea that students in the higher ability classes felt quite protected from the behavior problems that were often found in the lower ability streams, and they appreciated that. But they were also often able to reflect that they felt privileged perhaps unduly because of that, and that sometimes the pressure that they were under in those higher streams also wasn’t welcomed. And some of the students in the in the lower streams just seemed like, they were happy to just have a bit of a ride and not not have to work very hard. And that was fun with them, because the teacher didn’t care. So why would they? You know, so that kind of summary really, but yeah, so that’s kind of an overall stroke of of the result, the findings that I had about streaming, particularly inability grouping.

Cameron Malcher 

So can you just clarify how many students will be talking about and what learning contexts and what sort of school contexts are represented?

Olivia Johnston 

Okay, so I we’re talking about 25 students that I specifically sought out that would have different experience Is and they were from three different schools. So it’s a qualitative study where I worked really closely with those and I, I thought it students from disadvantaged schools more, and I thought out students who were known to sort of teeter on the edge of disengagement with school. So they were like, they’re in year 10. And they were in that sort of moment in time where they may choose ATAR. They may not they may continue with school in the future, they may not they just, they tended to perform really well in some subjects and not others and that kind of thing. So those were the students that I wanted to work with, because I wanted to see what was making the difference for them, in terms of teachers expectations, specifically. So yeah, it was 25 students, and there was about I conducted 175 classroom observations, and more than 100 interviews with the students. So lots of rich data.

Cameron Malcher 

And when you say that the student experiences included perceptions of possibly being unduly privileged, sitting alongside perceptions of having a bit of an easy ride, because they were with a teacher who, quote unquote, didn’t care. So why should they wear those sorts of varied experiences within the one school context? Or was that an across school experience?

Olivia Johnston 

Yeah, it did depend on the context that was the school was using for streaming. So one school that I got a lot of really interesting data for this paper from and they were the reflections were really rich from the students was from a school that had actually moved away from ability grouping. So I was with the students in Year 10. And in year nine, they had been grouped, but then in year 10, they weren’t being grouped. And I think that’s probably quite a rare case. And it was really interesting to talk with those students about the difference. And they, I mean, context, students views are shaped by their current context, of course, and there’s sort of a, there’s a tendency that’s been established with teachers, at least to prefer the system that they’re in, like, they’re just that they’re like, this is what’s being done, and it’s fine kind of thing. But these students were able to shed some really interesting light on the transition and saying that, you know, now being in mixed ability, we prefer it, which most of them did, because of this, because it wasn’t fair before. And we got to do this stuff in the higher stream, and they didn’t get to do this stuff. And, you know, so I did get that data from them. So that was a really interesting situation, where other students who had been in a higher ability group for all their education and quite liked that had a different, a different reflection, and also students who had been moved down groups they had. So it really depends on what their their individual experiences are in the system that they’ve been in.

Cameron Malcher

yeah, so what for you are some of the standouts from these findings? You gave us a bit of a summary of the extremes? What would you summarize as the outcomes of these interviews and these observations?

Olivia Johnston 

Yeah, I think that one of the things that really struck me was that some of the students, not all of them, and a lot of them didn’t, didn’t really have this reflection, but certainly quite a few of them. Had this, this notion that they weren’t being seen as people, they were being lumped together in a group where they didn’t actually feel like they belonged. And that they were being given an educational experience or being pressured to do certain things, or that actually didn’t suit them. And sometimes they were quite frustrated and angry about that. Sometimes that just made them disengage. And I think that’s more often the case. It’s just like, well, whatever, like, who cares that I’m not, I’m just not going to do any, I’m not going to try very hard, or I’m just going to try to make my teacher see me even less, you know, because So yeah, that that I found really stood out to me. And, yeah, enforced that need to, um, still differentiate within an ability group class, because what what’s being done, you can’t look at them all homogenously there’s still sort of individuals and they still need that relationship with the teachers where the teacher understands where they’re coming from. So that that really stood out to me as someone who an ability group or grouping researcher, because you know, that that is in line with a lot of the evidence that that actually ability grouping discourages differentiation, in some ways, because teachers can tend to then think that the differentiation has been done, and it doesn’t need to be, don’t need to consider the individual learning needs as much of the students in the class.

Cameron Malcher 

So this study, you mentioned earlier, when we’re talking about the outcomes of streaming, that one of the outcomes was this negative motivation or tendency to, you know, have negative impacts on students self efficacy, academic self concept, those sort of things? Is this study primarily a manifestation of exploring that outcome?

Olivia Johnston

That wasn’t the intention at all. So the aim of the study was actually to explore teachers expectations of students and how students experienced those expectations. And this the this section of the findings was really an offshoot of the differing expectations that they experienced according to the stream that they were in, or whether they were in mixed ability or streamed stream classes,

Cameron Malcher 

you see that a lot of classroom observations alongside the student interviews, did your observations generally align with the student perceptions? Or was there any kind of discrepancy there?

Olivia Johnston 

Yeah, that’s an interesting question. I really, the another aim of the study was to give the students voice. And the purpose of me being in the observations was so that the students and I had a shared framework to discuss what they had experienced. Did I experience it the exact same way as them, No, I mean, no. But could did we have the same foundation of what actually happened in the class? Yes, we did. But their interpretation of that was, you know, not aligned with mine, because we’re different people. You know, sometimes I could really relate to them and see where they were coming from. And other times I couldn’t, but that’s just the nature of, you know, I tried my best to step into their shoes and really see it through their eyes. It wasn’t about how I experienced it as an observer, that really wasn’t the intention of the study. And there’s more than enough research out there about, you know, academics and how they see things. This was really to try to see things from the students perspective, and to give them a voice in the literature around this.

Cameron Malcher

So what do you see as the implications of this study for teaching practice or for school management in general?

Olivia Johnston

Yeah, that’s a good question. I think it reinforces a lot of the existing literature that raises concerns about how streaming is being practiced in schools. And I think it’s really, I mean, I’m not going to make any sweeping policy recommendations from a small qualitative study. But when you consider it in the light of all of the other research findings about ability grouping, I think, at the very least, I would recommend that decision makers are considering what we know about ability grouping, because sometimes, I’m not sure that that’s being done, that we actually are looking at all the information and all the recommendations for policy that that exist out there already, when we’re making these decisions. So just to be informed about this, and to ask students, what they think, I guess, is always going to be a good a good thing to do as well. But I really think, you know, using the evidence that we have, and I’d like to create more evidence for here in Australia as well in the future, and hopefully, that will be more useful to schools, but even in terms of the the international evidence to look at some of the cautions around the practice, and just to take safeguards around those, those things were possible. There’s some really great recommendations coming out of University College London, right now that are very user friendly for schools, they’re not convoluted in academic language, and they really synthesize the research well. So even if school leaders when when making decisions about the practice, were considering that and what the students think as well, I think that would be a great step forward.

Cameron Malcher 

A couple of comments that have come up in recent interviews I’ve done has been about the fact that Australia has, I think it’s the fourth most segregated education system in the OECD. And that those divisions are primarily by you know, socio economic categories, but which, as you’ve already indicated, then tend to trace along racial or cultural backgrounds or disadvantage or disability, those sort of things. Another concept that’s come up in a couple of interviews has been that concentrations of disadvantage is itself exacerbating that disadvantage, that it’s sort of like a compounding factor. Once you collect kids towards the lower end, for one of a better phrase. Is it the case that streaming schools, whether internally or between schools, risks contributing to that part of this segregation that we’re seeing in Australia of education?

Olivia Johnston

Yeah, I think it’s definitely one of the OECD recommendations for reducing that inequality. And I mean, that’s something to look at as well, when when we’re taking light of all that, like I say, all the existing recommendations for practice and things like that. But I mean, I’ve talked to journalists before, who make an interesting point that it really depends on what our goals are, like, are we trying to to make education more equitable in Australia? Or are we satisfied because I’ve had other people say to me, you know, well, what they’re doing in schools, it’s just a reflection of society. And I mean, that’s true is and are we okay with that? Like, I think that’s, that’s a big question that we’ve got to confront as well. And I mean, streaming is one small part of that picture. And we’ve got a lot of different ways. If our goal is to create an equitable education system. That’s just a small little piece of the picture. I think, you know, it’s one that I’m very passionate about. And you know, I’ve devoted my research career to it. But I don’t think it’s the only solution. to that to that thing. So, but certainly I mean, we are that, again, I want to do the research in Australia, but international research suggests and I think, you know, even anecdotal research from from teachers just talking to teachers is that we are segregating students, according to. And I mean, there’s certainly with with the selective schools, I have read research, it’s not my research, but research that you know, those and you just have to look at my school their ICSEA, are the highest? So that’s Yeah, yeah, that’s definitely happening. And I think within schools, it’s, it’s happening as well, but by ability grouping, for sure. So that’s, that’s a great concern. And yet, to be honest, that’s the reason that I’m very passionate about this subject, because I, my goals for education, my personal beliefs about education are that it should be an equitable system, and not just a reflection of the problems that we have in our society already, you know. So that’s my ideals, for sure that I bring to the table with it.

Cameron Malcher 

I appreciate that this next question might be a bit beyond the scope of just this particular study we’re talking about, but in looking at streaming, and its impact on students self concept, self efficacy, motivation, and those social emotional factors. Do you have a sense of what practices exist as an alternative to streaming that not only don’t have that negative impact, but do possibly lead to more positive social emotional outcomes for students?

Olivia Johnston 

Yeah, look, totally not my area of expertise. But I have. And I would like to look at that more, I think, in the future, because we can’t do that. But certainly differentiating within mixability context is possible. And there is some great research out there about how teachers do that. I think there’s a perception that that’s really hard to do. And, you know, to meet students needs within a mixed ability context is is something that’s really challenging for teacher but I think that’s a conception that we need to confront. And yeah, I was just reading a paper from a colleague this morning about mixed ability, teaching and, you know, good approaches to teaching. But if you look at like, all the recommendations about open ended learning and things like that, and differentiation in the classroom, there’s no reason that they couldn’t work in a mixed ability class. So yeah, I, yeah, I mean, there’s more work to be done around that, for sure. And there’s a whole other area of research around that, then there has been some good stuff in Australia recently, usually, subject specific. So I, like I’ve done my research. But I’ve also written a few literature reviews, and I just finished reading one, I haven’t published it yet, but it’s about the Australian literature on this subject. And this is actually, the topic that you’re bringing up is one that they are researching, people are researching quite a bit. And in Australia, in terms of how to do it in, say, like a science classroom, there was a paper that I read about that. And yeah, it is often using open ended approaches to learning and inclusive ones that aren’t sort of like this is the content. And this is how you’re going to learn it so prescriptive, but more everything that we know about good teaching already in the classroom and new sort of inquiry and that kind of thing in science. So yeah, there’s, there’s lots out there about that. And I think it’s going to grow more and more as we go forward that that area, but it’s largely in line with what we what we do. There’s all the information we do know about good quality teaching already.

Cameron Malcher 

So to bring this back to the idea of student perceptions, and I suppose, you know, you mentioned that the students obviously interpreted incidents in a different way than you did as the observer, for obvious reasons, you know, their personal position as the student, you know, perhaps the lowest status in the environment of the classroom as well as their own background information that they bring to it, those sort of factors. Where does the notion of the qualities of the learner or the perspective of the learner also feature into how they interpret something in a negative way or positive way? And I suppose I’m thinking about, you know, look, I realize this is something that has been interpreted and misinterpreted and used all over the educational spectrum for the last nearly two decades. But that idea that John Hattie’s infamous pie chart of effect sizes, which often gets rolled out to say that the teacher is the biggest in school variable. But on that pie chart, it also says that students themselves and their attitudes and values and perspectives account for 50% of the difference in student outcomes. So what I’m asking is, I guess, how do we potentially account for students attitudes and their own personal qualities that they bring to the table in the interpretation of events in either overcoming obstacles or being part of their own self streaming process?

Olivia Johnston 

Yeah, interesting. And I think that dynamic between I don’t think it’s, you know, the students conceptions of themselves over here and the teachers are over here. I think there’s definitely interplay between those in That’s really low, a big part of what my research was looking at, and how a student’s Self confidence is shaped by what their teachers say and do in the class with them. And the students shared a lot about that. So that’s sort of a different topic than the ability grouping, but it is related. Because, you know, teachers affect how students see themselves and how students see that they’re not. And so it’s not just, you know, that this and that. And when we look at that student, part of the pie graph that we all know, what do we actually look at? Like? What does that what does that mean? Are we talking about, you know, students? Brains, like their genetics? I don’t think so. You know, I, I don’t think that I don’t think that’s what the evidence points to either. So to what extent can we help students have a belief in themselves that they’re going to, you know, be able to do whatever they want to do? And, you know, to what extent do we take their goals into account when we meet their educational needs, like their own goals for themselves? You know, that was a big thing that came through in my study for sure that these students, are they, especially with the ability group, and they sometimes didn’t feel like it was in alignment with how they saw themselves as learners. And sometimes that just made them lose faith in the education system, you know, to just be like, Whatever, I’m gonna be good at something else, you know? And, yes, sometimes it made them just switch off and disengaged, as well. So yeah,

Cameron Malcher 

do you have any sense that the positive qualities can be taught or imbued in students who are facing a system that perhaps gives them negative self messages?

Olivia Johnston 

Yeah, that’s an interesting questions. But I think, you know, there’s two levels, I look at it like this two things. And in my study, I really focused on the classroom and the teachers and what they were doing within the system. Because, you know, you’ll meet teachers that say to you, yeah, I taught the lower ability group, but I didn’t, I didn’t treat them like that. And, you know, so that I thought that was really interesting. And I wanted to explore what teachers do in the classroom as well. But then there’s the sort of policy level stuff and the systems that we’re working with, and and the messages that that’s sending to students, too. So there’s, there’s two sides to it. So a system where we tell students that, you know, you are that students see, I was put in this class at year seven. And I stayed in that class until your turn, and then I couldn’t do this subject, because I was in this class. So you know, like that, that kind of system, I think, is sending a message to students that is contrary to that research around growth mindset, just by the the way that it’s operating. It’s telling them that, you know, your capacity was fixed in year seven, and then we taught you in a certain way, and then you just that manifested in your life, you know, which is we get very contrary to this idea that if you work hard, and at some schools, and again, teachers will tell you that some schools will tell students that if you work really hard, you’re going to move up streams. But I think we, one part of this is really to look at like, okay, are students actually moving, because they’re not very much. I worked with quite a few in this study who did because of the type of students that I was looking for. But they were the exception rather than the rule, the vast majority of students aren’t moving. One of the recommendations that comes from that UCLA study that I was talking about, from the from the, from all the work that they’re doing in the United Kingdom right now, is that those students who are on the border line, like, if you say, you know, I’ve got 10, and there will be students, I’ve got 10 students that there could be in the middle stream or the high stream. Well, how do you allocate them? That’s, they suggest you use a lottery system if you’re going to do that. And I think that’s a really good recommendation. Because, you know, and tell the students that that’s what you’re doing too. And you know, it could change at any time. But then that has to be weighed up with other things as well, like relationships with teachers and that kind of thing, and that sort of movement. So I mean, there’s lots to think about that, I guess.

Cameron Malcher 

Well, picking up again, on some of the things that have negative impact on students self image, were any of the students in your study students who got moved downstream? And did they have particularly distinct experiences?

Olivia Johnston 

Um, yeah, so some of the things that they call themselves are interesting. So they said, I’m Canadian, they said, Spetz. And I was like, What’s a sped? Like, yeah, we’re just the sped class, you know, like, What do you mean by sped special education students, like they’re not students with disabilities, but they they attach these sort of labels to themselves and, and in my other work, I heard them call themselves like cabbages as well, which is, you know, interesting, sad labels to attach to them. But yeah, this this notion that their achievement was kept at school, made them sort of think about non School Pathways when we talked about because I was working with them in year 10. So sometimes our conversations would drift towards, you know, what’s happening in the future. And most of them did not in those grades that they did. They’re not conceptualizing an academic future for themselves that they’re thinking about other options.

Cameron Malcher 

For anybody who’d like to learn more about this topic broadly or about your research, where can they go to look?

Olivia Johnston 

Depends how much detail you want. I think a really good resource that is very user friendly for everyone is that one that I mentioned a couple of times from the University College London, that has the do’s and don’ts of ability grouping, and I can give you that to put in your show notes or whatever, as a public document. And again, that’s from the UK, but I have similar educational contacts and lots of really interesting takeaways from them. So I mean, these are researchers who’s, who have been largely exposing some of the problems with ability grouping that I’ve discussed, but they’re still saying, Look, if we’re going to use it, this is what we should do. So this is best practice within ability grouping, if if it’s something that we deem that we have to use it for whatever reason. So that’s a great, great document. And but the book that that’s based on from Francis, and now that there, that’s a lovely book as well. I mean, you can read the paper that this is based on the article from the conversation, I’ve got a couple of literature reviews out there that summarize the international literature on the topic. Those are good, and I can send you any all of that I’ve got some stuff coming out soon as well, more specific to the Australian context. And that’s where I want to head with my research. So I guess watch the space for that. Those those papers should be coming out pretty soon. So

Cameron Malcher 

yeah, okay, well, I’ll make sure there’s links to those resources and to your profile in the notes for this episode. Olivia, thank you very much for your time. It is a fascinating topic. And one that sounds like there’s still a lot of work to be done to fully understand in Australian education.

Olivia Johnston 

Absolutely. Thanks so much, Cameron.

1 thought on “TER #199 – Effects of Class Streaming with Olivia Johnston – 22 June 2022

  1. Hattie provided no reference to check where the numbers in his infamous pie chart, which claims teachers effect 30% and students 50%, came from. However, The American Statistical Association devoted a whole issue to this and got figure of teacher effect of between 1-14%. This would require a totally different narrative to that provided by Hattie & would indicate the student and other factors are more important – reference here – https://journals.sagepub.com/toc/edra/44/2

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