Teaching to the Top

When I taught in a small private school in London, the headmistress frequently reminded her teachers to “teach to the top.”She meant that we should direct our lessons to the top students in the class. She believed that teaching to the most able students set the standard. Students “in the middle” would be challenged to greater efforts and the least able students could take the class a second time if they couldn’t learn the material the first time around.My American education professors, on the other hand, told us to “teach to the middle.” Their theory was that the most able students could look out for themselves and that the less able could learn at least some of the material if the class moved at a slower pace.I think that my English headmistress had the sounder view. Teaching to the top does set the standard. So does teaching to the middle. The standard set by teaching to the middle is a standard of mediocrity.The situation is made worse in many schools by the combined policies of mainstreaming the learning disabled and creating “gifted” programs for the higher achieving students. Siphoning off the top students and admitting disabled students to the “regular” classroom upsets the balance. What used to be the “middle” is now the “top” and the standard of achievement is lowered proportionately.The NCLB (No Child Left Behind) Act does not help matters. It has produced a hysterical concern with standardized test scores and minimum achievement levels.Now, more than ever, parents need to set their own achievement standards for their children.Children vary in academic ability, but they all possess a top level to which they can rise. Find out what kind of instruction is going on in your child’s classroom. If a disproportionate amount of time is being spent on practicing for the next standardized test, your child’s teacher is probably not “teaching to the top.”

2 comments to Teaching to the Top

  • C.,
    Thanks for the comment. And thanks for telling others about my site.

    I spent many years in the public school classroom and I know that the reality can be very different from the generalizations so often made by politicians and school administrators.

    Children can receive an adequate education in the public schools, but only if their parents monitor and supplement the work they do there.

  • C.

    THANK you! I am SO glad to see this. I am a very lucky mom to three “gifted” children. It has been both a boon and a hindrance. You have EXACTLY identified my concerns and frustrations as a parent (and we happen to live in “a top-notch” school district)…on all levels. The NCLB is, in my opinion, doing more damage than good. While I’m sure it has merit in theory, the application has created an abysmal situation. Thank you, thank you, thank you, for sharing your thoughts, your outlook, and your information with us. I’ve passed you along to every parent I can.

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