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The Pros and Cons of Ability Grouping

written by: Margie • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/17/2012

Ability grouping, as the name suggests, lends itself to grouping students of similar abilities together. There are both positive and negative aspects of using ability grouping in your classroom and the following article discusses some of them.

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    Ability Grouping

    Ability grouping, a type of homogenous grouping, simply means grouping together students of similar ability levels. Teachers may use it for a variety of reasons, and when used appropriately, ability grouping can help students be successful in the classroom. When used inappropriately, however, it may actually do more harm than good. Continue reading to learn about some of the positives and neagtives associated with ablity grouping.

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    Positive Aspects of Ability Grouping

    Students Are Not Forced To Wait Or Rush

    When you place students of the same ability together, they usually are able to work at about the same pace. This means the students that understand the concept you are teaching can move on to a more advanced stage and the ones that need extra guidance can slow down and get extra help. No one is waiting on someone else to grasp a concept (that they already understand) and no one is being forced to move on before they are ready.

    Teacher Can Work More Intensely With Those That Need Help

    When you divide your class into ability groups, you will have groups that completely understand the topic and are ready to move on to something new. You will have groups that understand most of the concept but need some extra practice, and you will have groups that need extra instruction and guidance before they can progress. Since they are seated and working together, you can take this opportunity to sit with the ones that need extra instruction and provide it for them. The other students have their assignments, so they are busy working on material that has been tailored to fit their needs, so this frees you up to spend some time with those who need it.

    Students Are Allowed to “Fly" On Their Own

    The students that clearly understand a concept have time to move forward and progress at a faster pace and possibly move on to a more complex topic. This can build self-esteem and alleviate boredom in the classroom.

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    Negative Aspects of Ability Grouping

    Students May Get “Stuck" In a Group

    It is important to remember that no student is perfect at everything and no student is bad at everything. Sometimes, when we ability group it is easy to label students and place them in the same low, middle, or high group time after time. This can lead to labeling, (the “nerdy group" or the “dumb group") something teachers want to avoid at all costs. Afterall, a huge part of our job is to make our students feel confident and secure.

    It is easy to avoid this by using a data notebook to track students’ progress. This way you do not unintentionally place students in the same groups time after time. If you follow the data, students will actually be placed according to their ability.

    If you do notice that students are consistently being placed in the same group, you might want to shake things up and step away from ability grouping for awhile, or try some heterogeneous grouping. School is hard enough for our students, we certainly don’t want to give anyone a reason to bully or tease a classmate.

    Additional Work For The Teacher

    Ability grouping can add additional work for the teacher… and teachers are certainly busy enough. Ability grouping is not something that has to be done every day, or even every week if you are having a particularly busy week. Figure out the concepts where you seem to have the most differing abilities and use ability grouping only in those areas. Ability grouping can be very beneficial, but only if it is done thoughtfully and with a plan in mind. If you are simply too busy to undertake it one week, put it off until the next.

    Ability grouping can be looked at as simply another tool in your toolbox. Pull it out when you need it and when it will work for both you and your students.

Group Work In the Classroom

A three part series dedicated to the issues surrounding the use of group work in the classroom.
  1. The Importance of Group Work in your Classroom
  2. The Pros and Cons of Ability Grouping
  3. Techniques to Manage your Classroom During Group Work