This article is posted with permission of the author.
The Use of Ability Grouping in a Multi-age Classroom
by Janet Caudill Banks
Long term ability grouping should be discouraged in any class.
Mixed-ability grouping should be encouraged whenever possible.
Capitalizing on the wider range of developmental levels in a
multi-age class, and grouping accordingly, is one of the major
goals of multi-age instruction.
A number of research studies on heterogeneous grouping indicate
that mixed-ability grouping is the most effective way to maximize
student success. When students are in mixed-ability groups, teachers
can make more use of the benefits of cooperative learning and
peer tutoring, resulting in positive learning experiences for
all children. As students interact with other students of different
developmental levels, less able pupils become more excited about
learning and make significant gains, as they have the help and
encouragement of students from higher levels, as well as the
exposure to the knowledge and work of those students. More able
students also make significant gains as they assume leadership
roles, and clarify their own thinking while explaining material
These same research studies indicate that long-term, static,
ability grouping affects children negatively. It does not encourage
maximum development and it has been found to discourage less
Grouping children by ability for short periods of time to
meet specific instructional needs is appropriate. Children who
have the same needs can be grouped for short periods of time
for instruction, but when these needs are met the group should
be disbanded. Another group can be put together based on another
need that more than one individual has. In this way, grouping
is flexible, not static. Individualized instruction does not
mean teaching the same lesson over and over again to each child.
Teachers need to recognize times that more than one child has
similar needs, and group accordingly, just long enough to meet
Less able students, in particular, should never be left in
ability groups for a long period of time. They need the spark,
the knowledge, the motivation, the help, the encouragement, etc.
from the more able students. Being in a low group, and labeled
that way, can have a long term effect on self-esteem, as well
as being detrimental to learning.
© CATS Publications, 1997