Ability Grouping

Ability grouping is a widely spread practice used among many educators today. Between-class grouping is by far one of the most commonly used types of ability grouping. The goal of this grouping is for each class to be made up of students who are homogeneous in standardized intelligence or achievement test scores (Snowman, Biehler). In this type of grouping, the schools separate their students into different classes or courses. Between-class ability grouping is where students spend most of the day in ability groups and use the same or similar curriculum substantially adjusted to their ability levels (Ability Grouping 3).

For example, in elementary schools, students from the same grade levels may be grouped by ability for reading and mathematics instructions (Ability Grouping 1). The students are broken down into different achievement levels: high, middle, and low. Although the ability-grouped students learn the same amount as those students who are in mixed ability classes, there are a number of positive and negative effects between-class ability grouping has on the students and their teachers. This type of grouping has a more positive effect on the high level students.

It is known that the top 10 to 15% of these students benefit from this grouping (Considering Individual Differences). For those students in the middle and lower levels, there is no proven effective change in their achievement level. Because of this problem, the achievement gap between high and middle to lower level students is now wider than before. In pertinence to certain subjects such as reading or mathematics, between-class ability grouping can produce greater achievement gains than mixed-ability groups.

However, a common problem with between-class grouping is that the students in one group have little or no contact with others students outside their group. Yet another problem they are faced with is teachers expectations and the quality of instruction are often lower for the low-ability groups (Considering Individual Difference). It is shown that teachers instructing one specific level educate differently from one another in the classroom. In addition, teachers who have low ability students are not as organized with their lesson plans and they often use different strategies to get their lesson across to their students.

A final problem with this type of grouping is that students who are in the low ability groups begin to lower their own expectations of capability and achievement. This impacts their achievement level and in turn affects their self-esteem. Such consequences cause the students to lose interest in school, and in the long run, many of these students begin to drop out. Although there are certain benefits to between-class ability grouping, they are outweighed by the negative effects this type of grouping can produce.

Ultimately, the focus should not be on how to label students, but rather, on the quality of the education the students can receive while working with peers in specific subject areas. Regrouping is another type of ability grouping. Students of the same age, ability and grade, but from different classrooms, are brought together for a specific subject such as reading or math. According to their goals, activities, and individual needs, the students are grouped and then regrouped again. There are two common regrouping strategies: teacher-led groups and student-led groups.

Teacher-led groups are effective in introducing material, summing up the conclusion made by the groups, and meeting the common needs of the groups. These groups typically include whole class, small group, and individual instruction. Whole class instruction allows the teacher to introduce new material to the entire class. It also allows students to use their prior knowledge to form new acquisitions. Small groups can provide opportunities for working with students who have common needs, such as reinforcement or enrichment (Valentino, 2000, 1).

Individual instruction allows the students to enhance their own thoughts as they think about the thoughts of others. Student-led groups provide diverse thinking and encourage students to take responsibility for their own learning. Students control the group dynamics and maintain a voice in setting the agenda for the group to follow. Students will usually work in groups such as collaborative groups, performance based groups, and student pairs. Collaborative groups consist of a number of students.

There is no specific number of students that are to be placed together under this type of grouping. This group will do activities such as circle sharing. What allows this type of grouping to be successful is the opportunity provided for group members to work together and share their ideas. Performance based groups allow the students who need extra help in a specific area to work together on assignments. The students meet for a short time, during which they collaborate with each another and often instruct one another on how to perform certain academic skills.

Student pairs are similar in that they allow students to work with one another, however, this type of student led grouping is much more intimate, consisting of 2 students to a group. There are both advantages and disadvantages of regrouping. One advantage is that the groups formed under the regrouping plan are more flexible in assignments and narrower in scope than between class groups. Also, if a student is not exceeding or meeting expectations, the necessary adjustments can be easily made.

Needs such as these are simpler to meet while using a regrouping strategy, than strategies such as between class ability grouping, and students often have an easier time adjusting to the change. This being said, there are a number of disadvantages as well. One such example is the fact that the regrouping plan takes a considerable amount of time for planning. Teachers have to be very cooperative and must be in agreement with one another. Another disadvantage is that teachers and students meet with one another less frequently. ] Many teachers are uncomfortable working with children whom they see only once a day for an hour or so (Snowman, 2003, p. 186). Although a derivative of the regrouping method, the Joplin Plan is perhaps the most unique of the four types of ability grouping due to its process of cross grade grouping.

A variation of the regrouping method, the Joplin Plan is also known as the simplest form of ability groups. This grouping plan assigns students to heterogeneous classes for most of the day, but regroups them across grade levels for reading instruction (Hollifield 2000).

This is in effort to group students for reading instruction on the basis of ability level, regardless of age or grade. An example of the Joplin plan would be to group all third, fourth, and fifth graders whose grade equivalent scores in reading are 4. 6. The same can (and usually is) done for mathematics. According to Gary Hopkins of Education World Magazine, grouping students as a class by ability for all subjects doesn’t improve achievement, however, grouping heterogeneously except for reading instruction (commonly referred to as “The Joplin Plan”) improves reading achievement.

Obviously, the effects of incorporating the Joplin Plan into a curriculum are indicative of higher student achievement. Yet another advantage to the Joplin Plan is that it allows teachers to use whole class instruction, as the entire group is at the same reading (or math) level. Since it involves cross grade grouping there is no competition between high and low groups working within the same classroom. In addition, the Joplin Plan allows instructors to teach at a more rapid pace because the grouped students are all at the same ability level.

The negative aspects of using the Joplin plan include the degree of planning and cooperation among the teachers involved. The teachers must agree, for example, to schedule reading and arithmetic during the same periods (Hopkins). Also, there often isnt as much time to spend with students as instructors who follow the Joplin Plan would like- they only see the students for an hour or so each day. This is often somewhat uncomfortable for teachers (Hollifield).

All in all, it can be concluded that the Joplin Plan benefits both students and teachers, because it gives the students a chance to learn at their particular ability level, and assists teachers in constructing lesson plans that will be appropriate for the class as a whole. In addition, since there is no distinction between student ability within the classrooms themselves, students are less likely to label one anther and be labeled. Though the Joplin Plan can initially create an additional workload for instructors, its classroom benefits are well worth the extra effort.

The Final form of ability grouping is known as within class ability grouping. This method of grouping has been proven to be the most successful and the most commonly used among the others (Warrington Grid for Learning 1). Within class ability grouping takes a single class, and divides it into two or three different groups, in order for the students to be able to work with classmates that are on the same ability level as them. Within class ability grouping is commonly used with subjects such as reading and math. It is in these subjects that the students seem to differ in skill level the most (Snowman 187).

Within class grouping allows for each and every student to work on the level that is needed for them to succeed. There are a number of advantages in using within class ability grouping. The teacher is able to reach each and every student by separating the class into small groups of two or three, and the students are not hesitant to ask the teacher questions with out feeling unintelligent, because they are working with peers that are on the same level as themselves. Within class ability grouping is also beneficial to the students in a social aspect.

While working in these small, intimate groups, students feel more comfortable with one another and they begin to form bonds with the students that are in their groups. According to the Warrington Grid for Learning, within class groping also encourages peer support in the groups, because the students are not putting each other down, or looking down on one another (Warrington Grid for Learning 10). It is important to note that within class ability grouping is most successful when applied to a limited number of subject areas, or for a portion of the school day.

This being said, there are some disadvantages of this type of ability grouping that must be explored as well. When using within class ability grouping, the instructor must be able to control the group she is teaching, while simultaneously ensuring that the rest of the class is diligently working on their assignment. This works well with older students in fourth or fifth grade, but when an instructor has five or six year olds in his or her classroom, it may become difficult to keep the others busy while with another group.

Another disadvantage is that the amount of time that is used to break the class up into groups and instruct individual groups one by one takes time away from the class learning together as a whole, which is equally important. Within class ability grouping seems to be the most successful choice in using the method of ability grouping, particularly when grouping for specific subjects and academic tasks. Used in this manner, it has highest success rates.

As a group, we have concluded that within class ability grouping would be the form of ability grouping that we would choose to implement. We feel that it gives the students the chance to exercise their individualistic traits by attempting their full potential when working alongside peers on the same ability scale as they. It also gives the other students in the class (who may be behind) the opportunity to ask questions freely, and not feel unintelligent or hesitant in that they are working alongside students with the same capabilities as themselves.


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