Heterogeneity and Collaboration

Heterogeneous and collaborative structures that build on the strengths of every individual member of the school community optimize learning.

Practices Associated with this Principle

  • Students are grouped heterogeneously with respect to English proficiency level, academic background, native language, and literacy level.
  • Projects are carefully structured but are also open-ended enough to provide multiple access points for different levels of students to meaningfully engage.
  • Curriculum is interdisciplinary.
  • Instruction is student-centered, draws on students’ prior experiences, including their common experience of immigration and knowledge of their native languages and countries, and provides ample room for student discussion and collaborative work.
  • Class times are extended and additional supports are provided to students in order to enable deep and effective learning to happen in a heterogeneous community (e.g. smaller classes, para professionals or co-teaching with another teacher, carefully structured peer support, homework help after or before school, writing centers (staffed by other students), etc.).
  • Teachers are organized in teams/clusters and have time on a weekly basis to collaborate to create curriculum, plan common activities, and address the academic and social needs of the same group of students.
  • Guidance counselors and/or social workers are linked to teams of students and teachers.
  • School committees and teams make most decisions in collaboration with the principal.

Philosophy Behind Core Principle and Practices

Grouping students heterogeneously benefits all students by enabling them to teach one another as well as learn from each other. These heterogeneous groupings provide crucial support for struggling students. In order for students to teach one another, they must raise their own understandings to higher levels, providing opportunities for cognitive growth for all students. Students who are not proficient in English or who have low literacy skills generally do not lack cognitive or intellectual capacity and come to school with rich and varied experiences and perspectives to offer. The challenge for teachers is how to leverage this diversity for all students in the classroom.

It is for this reason that heterogeneity and collaboration are inextricably linked. If students are not organized into collaborative groupings and not working on projects that require joint effort, there is little opportunity for them to benefit from the diversity their classmates bring. In contrast, when students work on collaboratively structured projects, they have the opportunity to study a problem in depth, and to work in an environment in which variety is expected. This teamwork addresses the myriad of individual needs and skill levels that are present in a classroom. Part of their obligation is to include others as they continue to meet high expectations. Those who previously might have been left behind are part of a group of peers where everyone has a stake in the group’s success. Those in the middle are no longer able to hide because they are called upon to respond in a variety of situations and challenges, and have a responsibility to their group.

Similarly, teachers need to work in teams where they take collective responsibility for their students in order to leverage the benefits that a variety of discipline expertise, approaches, strategies, relationships, and knowledge can offer each member of that faculty team. Additionally, the teamwork experience provides faculty with significant insight into how to structure the work of their students collaboratively. Collaboration must exist at all levels of the school to realize the benefits of heterogeneity for all members of the school community.