Group preference and split reasons for adults were covered pretty well in the thread Likes & Dislikes of Instruction
started by Ron White. Experience at my own school suggests younger skiers are easier to group & split than older students.
Lengthy thoughts below are relevant to students 14 and under.
My own school asks typical placement questions long before kids hit the snow. Pre-grouping is done through verbal interview and notes from previous lessons. Students are asked where they’ve skied before to establish reference runs. We carefully ask “How did you like that run?” to gage reaction as this indicates whether they were qualified to be there or not.
Aggressiveness, athleticism, speed and ‘skiing capability’ are all topics of discovery. Capability is asked about first, but is quickly amended by the other three attributes for actual placement. This represents our initial Classification Function.
Once categorized by the Query Process above we allow Natural Selection to reclassify students. Students who remain tight with their current herd stay in that herd - those who race too far ahead or linger too far behind get picked off by Wolves …er, Supervisors for redistribution.
We use Snowboard students in our skier culling & evaluation process. Snowboard students are released a minute or two before ski students whereupon they automatically *run* to every lift’s rope line and plop themselves down all about the entrance to boot up. We then release the ski students.
Blocked by a 1960’s style sit-in at lift entry lines, our ski students Self-Classify by Learning Type. Doers are the ones clawing, biting and pushing their way through the blockage of ’boarders. Feelers are doing the same, but more gently. The Watchers just stand around mesmerized by the mêlée. Meanwhile, the Thinkers have ducked under the guide ropes and are at the front of the line waving us forward. Students are now self-classified by learning type.
At the top of the lift our second Classifier (The Landing Gauntlet) executes. This test classifies students by Turn and Braking Quickness as well as Athleticism. Upon reaching the top Snowboarders have again plopped themselves down all about the area. We observe how well our ski students respond when launched down the off-ramp into this maze. We rate Quick-Turn skills and degree of Braking skill prior to impact. Falling on soft underbellies with elbows rather than ski poles demonstrates the degree of Athleticism.
Once on the hill we test the student’s ability to follow directions in a way that also deliveres a sequential look at each Student’s skiing ability at their normal
speed. We ask the group to make the ‘Best Turns they can’ between "Here" and some place we identify. We clearly
say, “We’ll wave you down one at a time when we get there!
”. Then we then take off.
Of course, students unable to follow directions take off immediately behind us. These are generally Doers. The Watchers watch
the Doers and follow them down immediately after. Feelers then feel
like they’re being left behind and take off after the Watchers. We generally have to wave the Thinkers down.
This short Sequential Process reveals who the fast Doers are vs. the slow Doers, the Fast Watchers vs. the slow Watchers, and so on. We also observe who tends to stick with whom. Kids with an affinity for each other tend not to get lost from the herd later on. At this point instructors divvy up students by matching speed, skill and learning preference as evidenced in the preceding tests.
Our school puts a premium on speed matching. Very slow and very fast kids just don’t ski well together and a group ends up waiting a lot. Faster kids aren’t necessarily better skiers - in fact they generally need the extra speed to overpower their skis making up for ineffective technique. Students with a wide speed difference might actually be reversed in skill level from what you’d expect.
I’ve had a very slow student in a moderately fast class where the slowest person was actually the best technical skier in the group. She skied round, accurate WC turns while the rest of the group made fast (poor) Wedge turns. Regrettably, the group complained a lot because they all thought she “wasn’t good enough” for the group. Speed matters a lot in group interaction and support.
Skier-Level difference matters a lot less in kids given a good instructor. We frequently see level 3, 4 & 5 all in one group. Speed, technical proficiency and attitude form the more important group dynamic. In such a group, the 3 is usually aggressive and the 5 somewhat timid. Here we focus on Level-4 lesson content with individual attention to the needs of the 3 and the 5. Works out just fine.
After class we get together with our Supervisor for Student-Comparison Poker. “I’ll see your Despondent Debbie and raise you an Ace of Disobedience.” “Oh Yeah? Well I
had the Queen of Bathroom Breaks this morning” ... “Oh so what... I
had a Pair of Sobbing Siblings, Betty Broken-Binding *AND* the King of Disappearances all day today!” Compassionate silence ensues.
We then devolve into bartering. Mostly it's a game of Give rather than Get. Sort of like Hearts. Negotiations start with the leftover candy in our pockets but quickly escalate to beers, Good
beers, lunches, dinners, concert tickets, sexual favors, assassinations, et al.
Unfortunately, in the end we mostly find ourselves with the same students we had before. We try, we ply, we cry - Just doesn’t matter unless there’s a real Speed
difference. The best Super’s know how to say no, Dang it.
Our Exception Handling process involves Chair-Riders who continuously stalk the herds and remain generally available. Chair-Riders circle a given run and provide chair-sitting enforcement services. It’s a kind of 'Guaranteed Delivery' system making sure chairs don’t lose students on the way up.
On their run down they assist instructors with On-Hill exceptions. Things like fetching skis & poles lost from the chair, picking up fallen students higher up the hill than the instructor, or leading your whole group briefly while you deal with a damaged, dispersed or otherwise disrupted student. Sometimes they serve as Jailers until a Warden shows up.
Another On-Hill exception handler is our cadre of On-Hill Supervisors. Our school employs a Divide-and-Conquer scheme with one Super for each 8 to 12 instructors. A Super’s domain might be "Level 1-3, age 5-10" or "Level 4-6, age 7-12". This limits the range of exceptions each must manage in swaps and splits. Radios ensure Supers coordinate as needed.
Lagging Students can be picked off by stalking Supers and delivered to a more appropriate group. Students aren’t moved ‘up or down’ so much as ‘over-to’ a faster or slower group - one that is ‘more their speed’.
At the end of the day this kind of system seems to work pretty well for us. And you never know what you might get out of the barter system if you have a high degree of personal tolerance.