Do "early finishers" disrupt the Equitable Learning Environment of all learners?
So what? Who cares?
Unfortunately very often the group of students that are at the higher learning levels than the rest of the class find the classwork easy and boring. This handful of students commonly known as “early finishers” have the potential to change the whole learning environment of the classroom once they have completed the assigned classwork. Typically as a result they misbehave while waiting for the others to finish and distract lower level students who are really being challenged to complete it. (Danzi, J., Reul, K., Smith, R., 2008).
Sub Question- "Do early finishers disrupt other students still trying to complete a task?"
I plan to keep track by using tally marks of how many times I redirect daily off task behaviors of my "early finishers" in one category and how many times those re directions are due to disruption of student learning. I could also document and compare how many times "early finishers" are sent out of the classroom, receive referrals, time off of recess/fun Friday and their behavioral chart changes related to and not related to disrupting classmates completing an assignment.
Danzi, J., Reul, K., Smith, R. 2008. Improving Student Motivation in Mixed Ability Classrooms using Differentiation. https://eric.ed.gov/contentdelivery/servlet/ERICServlet?accno=ED500838
After my 1:1 I needed to change my keyword search because I am embarking on a slightly different path and I was able to come up with some interesting things. Two of articles focused mainly on differentiation in the classroom which has been a common theme with most of research but I came across one article that discussed a complete classroom restructure and replacing it with multi-age classrooms according to students developmental level K-3 and 4-5.
Because my essential question is geared more towards all students having equal access to learning, this article explored an new idea of what that might look like compared to those I have researched in the past.
Katherine Schweitzer (2015) notes that when students finish early this often becomes a time that is difficult for classroom management as students look for other ways to occupy their time. In theory multi-age classrooms address such issues as multi-level learners, ELD, disciplinary behaviors, etc. However teachers will need to make significant shifts in teaching because there is no curriculum and the idea doesn't support grade level testing.
I personally like the idea and have seen similar school structures thrive at Montessori and private schools where family members of mine attend. I don't see this happening anytime soon in our public schools though. I find small group instruction and interventions inside the school setting the best way I can really teach similar developmental students but even then after a while they began to realize which kids are in the "smart group and the "dumb" group which can make or break certain kids.
One person's research that really stuck out to me was Carol Ann Tomilnson. Every time I modified my search I noticed at least 2 articles or books by her came up and she was referenced in a couple of articles that I choose for my Literature review list.
Her work focuses on differentiation. She discusses how the need has increased due to diversity in the classroom. She stresses how differentiation should revolve around the student's readiness, interest and learning profile and should include some form of technology. She explains how teachers need to give quality instruction and produce academically responsive classrooms.
Her research relates to my driving question because her approach to "one size fits all" classrooms as being ineffective correlates to my need of classrooms needing to respond all the needs of all learners even if they are "gifted" and/or an "early finisher". I noticed in my research both terms were used to describe the same student. Her work has also been helpful because she offers designs and tools for gifted students.
Typically we have early finishers because hand few students have found the assignment easy therefore they get through the work before the rest of the class leaving them with nothing else to do. The experienced teacher would prepare for this by having a worksheet or "early finishers packet" (busy work) or have routines in place such as a "May Do" or Quiet Activity" for these students to complete, usually unrelated to the topic or lesson. This is necessary because when these early finishers are done with their work they want something else to do and if it isn't engaging they either become a distraction to the rest of the class and their learning or a behavior problem.
Through my driving question, I plan to explore what can be done to reduce various behavior issues in my class when particularly, my advanced boys, have completed their assigned work by not just throwing addition empty work at them.
In researching articles related to my topic I found that internationally this is an issue as well. A study by Jane Marshall explores the oldest problem in education, the epidemic of ennui,(dissatisfaction/excitement, i.e- bored) of school among pupils in France considering its centrally controlled system appearing to be the foundation of other school problems.
Nationally is where most of my articles were centered. I found many other studies where teachers struggled in the classroom with teaching mixed ability students and how to incorporate differentiation towards advanced learners. One article that caught my attention was, "Juxtaposing mathematical extensions with cognitively loaded questions in the mathematics classroom", by various authors published by the University of Calgary. This article offered ideas of bonus questions after the initial assignment is completed still on the current lesson or topic to deepen students mathematical understanding. By simply extending what they are already doing it gives opportunity for more practice. Calling them bonus questions leads the students to believe the are continuing on with the classwork not doing anything extra or more because they finished early and it's okay if everyone doesn't get to it.
As far as districts I know data and numbers are important. If the amount of behavior related infractions are entered in SWISS such as referrals; suspensions; drop outs decrease and a noticeable positive increase with advanced learner's academics, districts get acknowledged by the state.
Finally school wide, ideally we would see classrooms with engaged students at all learning levels. Teachers with less time taken away from learning to deal with behavior issues, building a classroom community that respects all students learning among peers.
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