cheesemonkey wonders

cheesemonkey wonders

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"De-tracking" Versus Mastery: Is This Our Dirtiest Little Secret...?

There has been so much heat and noise (and not very much light) on all sides of the so-called "de-tracking" debate, it has made me want to raise a question I have been thinking a lot about:
What is the difference between "tracking" (i.e., ability grouping, as in "high-," medium," or "low") and an SBG-style measure of mastery?
I ask because as someone who thinks about classroom instruction in a deeply Vygotskian way, I value the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) above almost all else in figuring out how to ensure that all my students receive meaningfully differentiated instruction.

But if there IS no reasonably common ZPD, there's no way I can see to differentiate — apart from simply allowing everybody to work at their own pace... in which case, what good am I in the room?

How do you make sense of this distinction?


  1. I always looked at the issues as tracking and therefore de-tracking was institutional. That was a school site decision that placed learners into the classrooms using some criteria.

    Mastery, on the other hand, is a pedagogical decision I can make in my classroom to help move learners from point A to point B on the learning scale. Mastery has more to do with what decisions are made inside my classroom, instead of in the principals office.

    I have considered it so, because while I was at a school that tracked, I could have still done a mastery based system, whereas I had no impact or was even asked about my perceptions of tracking. When I changed schools to one that did not track, I did use mastery.

    Is this an incorrect division of the two?

  2. The primary distinction in my book is whether or not the intervention for students who are still developing mastery is designed to be temporary or permanent.

    A temporary intervention would look like a targeted instructional program designed to catch students up in, maybe, two weeks and then it would be over. That's not tracking. That's supporting students as needs arise.

    But, grouping students into a fully separate class for a semester while the rest of the class moves on, that's closer to tracking, and much more risky.

  3. I would argue that either way a tracking system will emerge, whether institutional or within the classroom. Usually, if we are using a mastery approach inside our classroom, certain students will demonstrate mastery at a faster rate than other students. Therefore, this group will be constantly working at a different pace and/or complexity than the rest of the class, thus creating a tracking system within the class.

  4. What do you think of Jo Boaler's work on these issues? I feel like she gives good arguments for heterogenous classes, and also describes how to work with them in a way that pushes all sorts of students to learn the most possible.

  5. trying to talking watch from my childhood?
    Talking Watch