Ability Grouping Term Paper

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The fifth myth exposed by Fiedler et al. (2002) is the belief that the provision of heterogeneously grouped, cooperative learning situations is most effective for the achievement of all students, including the gifted. The authors argue that gifted children need regular encounters with challenging material in order to learn how to learn, and without exposure to challenging material, gifted students may have difficulties in developing study skills necessary for success in future academic endeavours.

The sixth, and final, myth explained by Fiedler et al. (2002) is that the mere presence of gifted students in all classrooms provides a positive influence for others and it improves the climate of the classroom. As the authors explain, research indicates that students model their behavior on the behavior of others who are of similar ability and who are coping well in school. Furthermore, heterogeneous grouping may in fact have negative effects on all students in the classroom, including those who are gifted. In closing, the authors stressed the importance of equal opportunity in actualizing potential among students over the requirement for students to have the same experiences.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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Term Paper on Ability Grouping Is Ability Grouping Assignment

The bulk of current research has highlighted the positive effects that some level of ability may have on student achievement. A study by Shields (2002) compared attitudes and perceptions of students in homogeneous vs. heterogeneous classrooms. In this study, the researcher compared various measures for fifth and eighth grade students in both homogeneous and heterogeneous classrooms. The measures studied included academic achievement as well as several measures of perceptions, including perceptions of themselves as learners, of their school experience and of the attitudes and behaviors of their teachers. The findings of this study suggested that homogeneous classes might serve the needs of gifted students without detrimental effects to the other students who remain in heterogeneous classrooms. Therefore, the author maintains that existing research clearly shows that some extent of homogeneous grouping benefits gifted students in terms of academic achievement, attitudes, and school experience. Furthermore, research demonstrates that students placed appropriately in regular, heterogeneous classrooms do not suffer adverse social or emotional effects when academically gifted students are placed in separate homogeneous classes.

The ineffectiveness of the heterogeneous classroom has been expressed by several educators and researchers. Benson (2002) suggests that in order to best serve students, teachers need to develop and adjust their expectations and strategies according to the various groups and learning styles that are represented. The author argues that in theory, teachers of heterogeneous classrooms should resource resources and support from colleagues with knowledge of how to best serve students across the achievement spectrum. However, in reaility, Benson argues that this support structure does not exist, and teachers are left to deal with situations to the best of their knowledge and abilities. This generally results in teachers teaching at a level appropriate for the average student in the middle of the spectrum. Furthermore, students at the extremes of the achievement spectrum may not receive the appropriate type or level of instruction. The author concludes that the heterogeneous, inclusive classroom is not the best way of meeting the needs of all students.

In support of ability grouping, and article in Gifted Child Today Magazine (2001) outlined 9 realities, supported by research, regarding the effects of grouped classrooms. The authors suggest that grouping is a commonplace of the real world, and that ability grouping only serves to prepare students for this reality.

The nine realities were outlined as follows:

Reality 1: Approximately 35% of adults work at home independently and select friends with similar interests and occupations.

Reality 2: Group placement is a result of students' performance, rather than skin color or economic class.

Reality 3: "Effective" teachers of groups with varying ability levels may have different characteristics.

Reality 4: To ensure success, students tend to model individuals that are most similar to their own level.

Reality 5: Flexible forms of ability groups include within-class grouping, cluster grouping, cross-grade grouping, and pull-out groups that rely on students' performance level and interests.

Reality 6: Low-ability and average students tend to have higher self-esteem in grouped classrooms.

Reality 7: Achievement is enhanced when curriculum and instruction are slightly beyond the students' current performance.

Reality 8: Teacher expectations influence behavior more than grouping practice.

Reality 9: Discussions that require higher order thinking may "intimidate" or "alienate" lover level children.

These nine realities exposed by the article outline how, overall, grouped classrooms are advantageous for students performing at all levels.

However, some researchers have found evidence to the contrary, that grouping students according to ability can have detrimental effects. A study conducted by Lyle (1999) demonstrated results in support of heterogeneous grouping, but not homogeneous ability grouping. This study was based on interviews with two groups of primary school children after they completed a project in which the children were taught in mixed ability and mixed-gender groups with the purpose of improving their reading abilities. Through analysis of the children's comments, the authors argue that mixed-ability teaching provides a setting in which both low and high-achieving students benefit from and value the opportunity to work together. Moreover, interactions among peers can facilitate literacy development in individual students. Therefore, the potential benefits of maintaining a mixed ability classroom should not be ignored.

The question must be addressed as to how mixed-ability classrooms can be effective. Lyle (1999) explains how merely placing students around a table and expecting them to work does not result in successful learning. There is a range of factors involved in successful learning outcomes. A central factor is training in group-work skills, which can be achieved task structures that organize interaction and teach children to work cooperatively. It is of the utmost importance to provide stimulating material in order to engage the interest of students and ensure motivation. Lyle also purports that when children work successfully in collaborative groups, the exposure to each other's knowledge and experience facilitates both social and cognitive development. Furthermore, teachers need to adopt practices that allow children to use talk as a skill-development tool in collaborative settings. The interviews in this study by Lyle demonstrated that if children have control over their own learning in relation to classroom activities, they are able to take joint responsibility for their learning. Lyle concludes that the division of children into ability groups within classes, subjects, or streams, is a socially divisive practice that could lead to falling standards for students labelled as low achievers.

Another study demonstrating possible negative effects of sbility grouping was conducted by Suk Wai Wong & Watkins (2001). These researchers aimed to test the strength of the relationships between student self-esteem, and the ability group of the school band and class stream they attended, as well as their self-perceived academic performance. It should be noted that this study took place in Hong Kong, so it demonstrates results in a non-Western context. The results indicated that students who perceived their school performance as poor tended to have lower self-esteem than those who perceived themselves as performing better, which was a performance main effect. An interesting finding was that Students from within-school lower streams tended to have higher sel-esteem than students from higher streams, which was stream main effect. These findings suggest that while students from higher ability groups did report lower self-esteem than the lower ability group, school band had no effect. Furthermore, it was actual perceived academic performance that had the greatest effect on self-esteem.

The authors suggest that competitiveness plays a key role in the effects that ability grouping has on the self-esteem of students, and that, despite the current findings, simply eliminating ability grouping is probably not the answer. A balance must be struck in a competitive environment that will boost the self-esteem of able students, but will not destroy the self-esteem of lower ability children. Moreover, the authors maintain that the self-esteem of average ability students, especially those in the lower part of the ability spectrum, is most affected by ability grouping. They suggest that changes in the assessment system that reward students for individual improvement may be the most beneficial for average students.

There is a general consensus among the existing research that, at least to some extent, the practice of ability grouping is necessary. What factors are involved in successful grouping strategies? Lou et al. (2000) that the most important instructional predictors of the effects of small-group instruction are teacher training, grouping basis, and type of small group instruction. These researchers stress the importance of adequate training for teachers, so they are better able to adapt their teaching strategies accordingly, use appropriate teaching materials, change their roles to learning facilitators from knowledge dispensers, and employ effective group-learning strategies. Moreover, cooperative learning strategies such as individual accountability, small-group size, and increased opportunities for cognitive interaction can allow for more effective learning in group situations. Contrary to some findings presented previously, Lou et al. (2000) found that homogeneous ability grouping appeared to be more effective than heterogeneous grouping.

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