What We Know
Research suggests that grouping students based on their academic and affective
needs can be a valuable tool for instruction. The arrangements of students
should be for short-term activities and students' progress must be monitored
to ensure that they are appropriately placed. More than grouping, however,
content has a greater effect on student achievement (Mosteller, Light, &
Sachs, 1996). The implication of the research is that quality instruction is
organized around essential concepts, principles and skills that are the goals
and focus for all learners (Tomlinson, 1999).
Assessment through different means, including journals, class discussions and
test scores, allows teachers to determine at the start of a unit or lesson an
appropriate entry point for each student. The need-based arrangements should
remain fluid, so that evidence of an individual student's progress or
difficulty results in a change in grouping for that student (Cotton, 1995;
Kame'enui & Simmons, 1998).
Research has shown that long-term ability grouping or tracking for struggling
learners yields inequity. Diminished expectations, simplified materials and
discussions and negative labeling curbs students' motivation and self-esteem,
resulting in performance that is lower than when students receive appropriate
support within heterogeneous groups. Yet a significant number of studies
indicate that advanced learners do benefit from homogeneous groups when a
combination of acceleration and enrichment is provided (e.g. Kulik & Kulik,
1997; Delacourt et al, 1994; Shore et al, 1991). However, Kulik and Kulik
(1997) also found that for students at all ability levels, curricular
differentiation for different groups--not ability grouping--has a positive
impact on student achievement. The best practice, then, is differentiated
instruction for all learners. A differentiated classroom shifts from class to
small group to individual work regularly. Need-based grouping arrangements are
used for practice and reinforcement. Other activities that tap a variety of
learning modalities and incorporate heterogeneous cooperative learning groups,
however, are equally important (Tomlinson, 1999).
It is important to note that learners benefit from an appropriately high level
of challenge and skill, particularly when the problems and concepts are
perceived by students to be interesting and necessary (Csikszentmihalyi,
Rathunde & Whalen, 1993).
Grouping is the practice of organizing students into small groups to
Differentiated Instruction describes instruction differentiated
according to learner needs.