Ability Grouping in Yeshivos: Do Away With the “Gimmel Class”?

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classroom_1There has been great debate in the secular world about Ability Grouping, also called “tracking.” The issues involve whether it is preferable to break up classes by ability or not, and should it be done across the board or just in a few classes. The benefits to ability tracking to the better students are that it affords students in the “Alef Class” a deeper and more significant educational experience. The downside to tracking is that it can severely impact a student in the “Gimmel Class.”

The debate about “Ability Grouping” in the frum Jewish world is different, however, than in the secular world. In the secular world much of the pressure against implementing ability tracking deals with the statistical reality that minorities are more heavily represented in the lower ability class than in the upper ability classes. The arguments center around the notion of “The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” In the frum world, the debates center around, “At what price elite education?” Sometimes the wealthiest families have children in a “Gimmel Class.”

There is no denying the fact that placement in a “Gimmel Class” adversely effects the self-perception of a child. A local teacher who interviewed for this article said, “I recently met alumni from a local yeshiva where the classes were tracked. These alumni graduated years ago and they recently introduced themselves with the introduction of ‘We were from the loser class at Yeshiva X.’ ” Clearly, the self-perception can stick for years.

To address these issues, some yeshivos track only for Gemara class or, in girls’ schools, Chumash and Novi. This does tend to reduce the impact of a lower self-perception, but it does not eliminate it.

The good news is that the fact that the issue is hotly debated shows the concern that our rabbeim and mechanchim have for each child. The bad news is that more has to be done. The tracking is clearly something that is here to stay, the only issues are how to minimize, or eliminate the negative impact.

Solutions must be developed in which the “Gimmel Class” curriculums must be shored up. Prizes and recognition should be made to encourage the abilities of these students. More effort should be placed on gedolim visits, prizes and recognition in these classes than in the Alef Classes in order to counter-balance the negative impacts. Doing so will only strengthen our communities.

{FiveTownsJewishTimes-Mr. Larry Gordon/Matzav.com Newscenter}

8 COMMENTS

  1. Tracking works well for most children IF every child is encouraged to do their best, is praised for putting in effort, and is allowed to “move up” to the next level if their work warrants it. Positive reinforcement and flexibility are key.

  2. Excellent Article. I just wish there was a better solution. As a parent of different (types) of children, some in the Alef Class and one in the Gimmel Class, I find it very hard for him. However, I have seen that while in the early years (4-5 grade etc..) He was stuggling to keep up with the regular class, and that was very hard for him emotionally, knowing that his marks were lower than his classmates, So there has to be a better plan for these boys, one that will not turn them off… They should have other subjects in their curriculum that they can excel at. That would do wonders for their self-esteem, and also not be so pressurized.

  3. As a former beis student, I can say that the system is terrible! I felt like class b schoireh! It continues to haunt me until this day. I will never forgive the menahel who did this to me! Children are not to be graded like usda peanut butter that is served in school, or at least untill the peanut alllergy crisis. the menahlim are asidim leeten es hadin for all the children whose self esteem was destroyed by class.

  4. PUT ME DOWN ON THE OPPOSITION SIDE OF TRACKING ( IN GENERAL ) EVERY AVENUE FOR ALTERNATIVES MUST BE INVESTIGATED AND TRIED. THERE IS NOTHING MORE VITAL IN EDUCATION ( AND FOR THAT MATTER, LIFE ) THAN SELF-CONFIDENCE!!!!!( AND, OF COURSE, LOVE FOR YOUR STUDENTS!!–GIVE THEM LOTS OF SMILES AND POSITIVE REINFORCEMENT,)

  5. “The tracking is clearly something that is here to stay”

    This statement nauseated me. Clearly, we are very myopic. And clearly, if we continue to write such “clear” statements, our system will not improve.

    Who put that nonsense in your head? There is nothing “clear” about grouping by ability. A teacher worthy of the name knows how to challenge all abilities within the classroom.

    I am a well known educator who speaks with countless teachers. Our teachers are wonderful, and have much potential to be the movers and shakers of improvement in our system. If we can get rid of the “clearly, it can’t change” attitudes, our path will be much “clearer” to providing tayereh Neshomos with the tools and self perception necessary to achieve and continue growing throughout life.

    Our teachers can do it; they are eager to live up to the ideal. It is we who have to show our confidence in them, and not “clearly” say something so harmful to so many of our kinderlach and future adults is “here to stay”.

  6. A discussion like this must include the children who are placed in certain classes for considerations other than academics, such as politics, finances, communal prestige etc….

  7. i know of a yeshiva that does tracking but puts the better rabbeim in the bais class. There are many parents who change their children into the bais class to have these rabbeim.

  8. I am too, a former “Gimmel” student- I spent my entire elemntary and High school at the same Yeshiva. My last week there, I repectfuly explained to the Menahel how difficult it was to get better chavrusas being i was labeled.
    He squirmed and told me how they will change (yawn).

    Sadly to say, this once great Yeshiva has come upon rough times, where admissions and money are way down. do I feel sorry?

    Nope- Ask one of the Aleph students to draw up a check to pay con ed-

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