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Ability levels and grouping

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Kathleen Frank Kathleen Frank 2090 Points

Since every classroom has students at varying abilities, what approach do you take to meeting the needs of all learners? Do you mix advanced students with struggling students so they can help them, or do you group by ability level so you can allow the advanced students more autonomy while giving the struggling students more assistance? I see advantages and disadvantages to both strategies. I’m curious about which you’ve found to work better, and how your students have felt about the groupings. Thanks!

Betty Paulsell Betty Paulsell 48560 Points

Kathleen, I have found it better to just use random grouping in science activities or experiemnts because the more advanced students learn by helping slower students. It gives them confidence and a chance to share their knowledge, thereby cementing it more in their minds. Science is much more interactive than other subjects and it is easier to randomly group students for science. As a matter of a fact, science is one of the first subjects that slower students are integrated into from their special classes. When you get into reading texts or other written material then you might want to consider ability grouping, but for doing activities and experiments mix the student up!!

Patrick Mangan Patrick Mangan 110 Points

I'm a future teacher, and I think I would be more concerned about grouping students in a way that ensures they focus, rather than based on their abilities. If a group is struggling, I can help them or they can get help from other students/groups. What I will be more concerned about is students forming groups with their friends and goofing around and becoming a distraction. I feel like that would have a bigger impact on the class as a whole.

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Good point, Patrick. There is an article in the Learning Center that provides some pointers for teachers apprehensive about how to set up groups in order to provide focused, engaging group work situations. The article is called: The eight-step method to great group work

Kathleen Frank Kathleen Frank 2090 Points

Thank you all for your insights. Betty, it’s interesting that science is one of the first classes for special needs integration. Why is that? I would think that science requires a lot of listening, following instructions, and inference, which may be difficult for special needs students. Tina, I appreciate the idea that you can mix up the groupings depending on the activity. I like your point that at times groupings can be based on their interest in working at their own pace. Patrick, you raise a good point that grouping of friends may become a distraction. That makes me wonder, how often do friends tend to be about the same ability level as each other? This could really become an issue if groups are based on ability! Carolyn, thanks for the link! I will check it out. It seems like how we group our students can have a big influence on their learning experiences and how the classroom functions. I look forward to understanding the nuances of this and how to group students effectively. I will mention here that I am probably overly concerned and biased about grouping students. As a parent of several children identified as gifted and talented, my children got tired of being put with the less advanced students in order to help. They would have liked an academic challenge, rather than a teaching one. Don’t get me wrong, I think there was value in having them articulate their knowledge in ways that others could understand. And it taught them to appreciate their ability to pick things up easily. And, it definitely did cement the ideas and concepts in their minds. However, it got frustrating when it kept happening again, and again and again. What they wanted was to learn the subject deeper, not just to reinforce their understanding thus far. I suppose there needs to be a good balance!

Betty Paulsell Betty Paulsell 48560 Points

Kathleen, I think that special needs students are often included in science classes because it is one of the most active of classes if the teacher is doing lots of activities and experiments. The special needs students probably would not be expected to attend when there is intensive reading and testing. Even if the teacher is holding discussion time special needs students often listen and can contribute ideas. As for gifted and talented students getting tired of helping special needs students, that should have never have happened. Teachers should change groups often so that all students work with different students over time.

Kathleen Frank Kathleen Frank 2090 Points

Hi Betty, Thank you for your reply. I appreciate learning from your knowledge and experience. One of my biggest concerns about when I have my own classroom is meeting the needs of all the students. I really feel like every child deserves to have their needs met, but it seems like there can be so many different needs. Balancing them all seems daunting at times. I'm curious about how to integrate special needs students, especially when they don't participate in the readings and such. What is expected of them and how are they assessed? What are the group dynamics? Thanks for being a mentor here!

Betty Paulsell Betty Paulsell 48560 Points

Kathleen, Yes, balancing the needs of all the students does seem very daunting!!! You do not learn it all overnight and in your university classes. A lot of it comes with practice and talking to experienced teachers that you will be teaching with. A lot of lunchtime and afterschool discussions that take place between teachers are about problems with students and how they are handling them. Actually, your colleagues will be your best support, so do not feel shy about asking their advice. Most experienced teachers are glad to help new teachers because they remember what it was like to start out. As for how to integrate special needs students into science, that actually needs to come on a one to one basis depending on the student. Most special needs students like the activity part of science. I would place them in a group of students you feel are comfortable working with that student and just let things flow. The special needs students will do what they are comfortable doing usually. As for assessment, that would depend on the dictates of your school district. I would say it would be mostly observational assessment. In my school special needs students were easily accepted by the other students because they had grown up together and were friends. They ate lunch together, had recess together, had music & PE together, and had science together. This will not necessarily be the case in whatever school you teach in, but it was really nice in my school. I hope this helps and good luck in your career. Betty

Deborah Spencer Deborah Spencer 880 Points

Has anyone tried grouping by ability? I've got several students who are very low in their abilities in my 9th grade physics class. I'm having a hard time getting them the explicit instruction they need in the skills they're missing while not boring everyone else. Also I find when they are in mixed lab groups they do not participate at all for a variety of reasons, self confidence probably number one. Suggestions?

 Breanna Woods 2915 Points

I am an education student and teacher in training. I always thought that it will be best to group students randomly to not cause a division in the classroom between the high and low performers. I will like to know if when the students are placed in the random groups are the different ability levels apparent to the students and does the lower performing students start to feel inferior because they always need help from their peers. If so how should a teacher handle it?

Emilia Centeno emilia Centeno 1125 Points

I am currently a student and in my opinion I think that grouping students randomly is a good way to get your students to learn from each other. Students will be able to assist their classmates or get help from classmates. I think that this will also give the teacher the opportunity to see the different level of the students and how they work with each other. This will let the teacher also see how to plan her lessons.

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