“The speaker was obviously against ability grouping. He said that in the past, some people have put the high kids together in one class and the lower kids together in another class. In this situation, the low kids tend to learn a lot and the high kids learn a lot, but the gap between their knowledge grows even wider. Whereas in a mixed-ability group, the high kids will pull the lower kids up, and so the knowledge gap is decreased.”
This made me think about grouping and whether I should group or not. I think there are times grouping is good and sometimes it isn’t appropriate. As a teacher, I need to look at what the objective of my lesson is and how do I plan to achieve it. If grouping is the best way to do that, then that is the way I need to go. I do not believe that one size fits all and just because I group for this lesson, doesn’t mean it should be done for all lessons.
In project based learning, the group can be a mixed ability group so that each person can use their strengths to help the whole group. This is a great example of a real life situation because many times when I have to work on a project, I am not aware of the abilities of each person until we start to work together. Each person has something to contribute and because of our different strengths, it is more likely that we will be successful in completing a project. Many employers look for employees who can work on a project with others and can contribute differently to the group.
Yet, as a teacher, I need to help develop my student’s strengths and sometimes it is necessary to put them in a group of same abilities. If I am going to a class to learn a new skill, I do not want to waste time sitting there and listening to the basics being taught if I already know the basics. This applies to my students too and they do not want to waste time hearing about something they already know how to do. The same applies if I overwhelm the students who do not know the basics and give up before they ever get started. This only invites behavior problems and lack of motivation to try to learn a new skill. By grouping them according to same abilities, I am able to challenge the students to a point where they won’t be overwhelmed with frustration.
I think it is also important to talk about this with students. They are aware from an early age about grouping whether you call it low, middle, high or red, blue, and green groups. They know which students struggle and which ones excel. Again, that is real life and nothing we can do will ever insulate them from that. Instead, we need to help them understand that our differences are what help us be successful in life. One student may struggle with one skill but excel in others. As a teacher, they assume that I am brilliant (not that I would ever try to convince them otherwise!) and that I can do anything. Yet, I explain to them that I cannot fix my car if it breaks or repair my roof or fix plumbing problems. Maybe one day, one of my students will be doing that for me. Each of us needs to build on our strengths and encourage others to do the same. Same ability grouping should not be looked down upon but seen as necessary sometimes to build strengths for times when we are in mixed ability groups.
I am interested in knowing how you feel about grouping? Which do you use and why? Hopefully sharing our ideas will help make our students more successful in the classroom.
Original image: 'Serious Face' http://www.flickr.com/photos/66656285@N00/470347778 by: Peter Caspiolay