Today’s classrooms are diverse and contain many levels of learners. In this lesson, we’ll discuss the advantages and disadvantages of mixed-ability grouping.
What Is Mixed-Ability Grouping?
You have 23 students in your third grade class.
Each student has a unique maturity level, strengths, needs, and social abilities. In past years, you’ve grouped your class based on abilities. Your high-level students were in one group and your lower-level students were in a different group. Your ESL students had their own group, as well as your average-level students. This seems to work out because all of your students’ needs are being met. But are they really? Recent studies have shown that ability grouping can actually be holding your students back.
A recent trend is mixed-ability grouping, or grouping students with all different abilities together. For example, you may create a mixed-ability group by grouping students of different ages, language levels, or academic levels. There are both advantages and disadvantages to this approach, which we’ll discuss in this lesson.
What Are the Advantages?
There are several benefits of using mixed-ability grouping.
Students who are placed in groups with mixed abilities benefit because they are grouped with other students who are not like themselves. This allows for the opportunity to learn about and accept differences. Mixed-ability grouping is great for discussion purposes and getting others’ perspectives on things. It also helps students to understand each other better by increasing interaction among students who may not otherwise get the opportunity to interact. This can promote tolerance and the understanding and acceptance of differences.
In academics, higher-level students can help to push lower-level students further by modeling and encouraging them. This builds higher-level students’ skills in consolidating information and mentoring others. It also exposes lower-level students to some of the higher-level thinking questions and problem-solving skills they might not observe if they remained in a low-level group. Also, working in a mixed-ability group builds self-confidence academically and socially, along with patience and kindness.
What Are the Disadvantages?
Just as mixed-ability grouping has its advantages, it also has its disadvantages. One of the major disadvantages of mixed grouping is the amount of work and planning for the classroom teacher.
Each child in your class of 23 comes from a different home life, had a different experience last year in second grade, and has had different social and life experiences. Understanding and knowing your students enough to group them in the right mixed-ability group is very difficult. Also, since each one of your students learns better in a different way, it is important to make sure that the grouping will benefit their learning style.Academically, your higher-level students are more than likely going to finish their work faster and easier.
Your lower-level students can become frustrated if work is too hard, and they can lose self-confidence if not placed in the correct group. If students are very different, conflicts can arise, including arguing, disruptive behaviors, and even bullying. Creating mixed-ability groupings that are effective is a difficult task and requires strong classroom management skills.
Every class is different, and each class benefits from different strategies and teaching styles. Mixed-ability grouping, or grouping students with all different abilities together, has both advantages and disadvantages, and it is an option to consider when grouping your class. Some advantages include developing new skills, developing students’ self-confidence and problem-solving skills, and gaining a greater understanding and acceptance of differences.
Some disadvantages are increased work for the classroom teacher to group students effectively and manage groups so that all students succeed, possible conflict among students, and frustrated students who may find the work too hard.Take a close look at your students and what they need to gain from the grouping, and you will find your answer. Whether ability-grouping or mixed-ability grouping, your students will benefit with the differentiated instruction that they need to learn and grow.