DISCUSSION: How do you group your students?


What are the ways that we organise and group students for specific subjects? And which ones are most effective?

*** Plus: see a great TEDx talk discussing grouping children by giving them the choice as to whether they complete a 1, 2 or 3 star differentiated activity.

Students can be group by:

  • the total group
  • individually
  • with partners
  • in small groups
  • in random groups
  • in student chosen (social) groups
  • interest-related
  • task-related
  • homogeneous (ability based)
  • heterogeneous (deliberately wide-ranging abilities)
  • learning profile readiness
  • by age

Does streaming our students into homogeneous groups really work?

John Hattie (Visible Learning, 2009) found that ability grouping children had a 0.12 effect size. Children will learn. But, with the average effect size being 0.4, it is not an effective influence on learning. Whereas, the effect of not labelling students was 0.61. 

Further research has found that children being placed in a top stream enjoyed a significant positive benefit, compared to children who had not been streamed. However, pupils placed in the middle or bottom streams were worse off (in terms of progress) than those who were not streamed.

“Streaming…advantages those who are already high attainers, disadvantaging those who are placed in middle or lower groups who are deprived of working with those who are more advanced.”

See: https://www.ioe.ac.uk

Just a thought: Does grouping our children by age work? Should schools be organised by dates of birth?

Which grouping strategy is best?


Heterogeneous classes with appropriately differentiated instruction have both academic and social advantages for all students.

  • Creativity, stimulating discourse, and diverse thinking can be found in heterogeneous classes that have a balance of procedural, factual and conceptual understanding. Students benefit from a multi-faceted approach to instruction (Corbett Burris, Heubert & Levin, 2004).
  • Students in heterogeneous classrooms can be grouped with other students who share their particular interest, readiness level, or learning profile (Spear, 1994)
  • Heterogeneous grouping creates an environment in which teachers must be responsive to individual student needs.
  • Research reveals that students in heterogeneous classes outperform those grouped by ability. Additionally, students grouped heterogeneously have better behavior and demonstrate high levels of respect and responsibility among classmates. (University of Sussex, 2007)
  • Students in heterogeneous classes have access to higher level thinking and questioning and therefore have a greater opportunity to meet grade level standards.

What can teachers do to differentiate the learning?

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 3.48.43 pmScreen Shot 2015-09-19 at 3.48.50 pmScreen Shot 2015-09-19 at 3.48.59 pm

How might this work?

There are lots of ways to differentiate the learning. One method I have used since working with New Entrants / Pre-Primary students is to give them the choice. This encourages them to be reflective in their learning. The learning community also needs to encourage students to take risks, learn from mistakes and foster a growth mindset. The following TEDx talk by Jodie Parsons and Yvonne Reilly illustrates how you could use a star system to differentiate learning, in maths for example. 

Further reading (specifically for maths):

Corbett Burris, C., Heubert, J., & Levin, H. (2003). Math acceleration for all. Educational Leadership. 68-71.

Hill, D. (2004). The mathematics pathway for all children. Teaching Children Mathematics. 127-133.

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. (2000). Principles and Standards for School Mathematics. Reston, VA: NCTM.

Spear, R. (1994). Teacher perceptions of ability grouping practices in middle level school. Research in Middle Level Education, 18, 117-130.

Sutton, J., & Krueger, A. (Eds.). (2002). EDThoughts: What we know about mathematics teaching and learning. Aurora, CO: Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning.

Tomlinson, C. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all Learners. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Tomlinson, C. (2001). How to differentiate instruction in mixed-ability classrooms. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

University of Sussex (2007, September 21). Grouping Kids By Ability Harms Education, Two Studies Show. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2007, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2007/09/070915104849.htm


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