Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Ability Grouping as a Way towards More Academic Success in Teaching EFL - A Case of Iranian Undergraduates

Academic journal article English Language Teaching

Ability Grouping as a Way towards More Academic Success in Teaching EFL - A Case of Iranian Undergraduates

Article excerpt


This research is an attempt to find out if grouping learners, through using a placement test will significantly help students become more successful in learning English. 320 non-English major undergraduates studying at the University of Isfahan participated in this research. The final scores of 121 freshmen who attended their general English courses in homogenised classes were compared with those of 199 freshmen who did not undergo any placement procedure. The analysis of data suggested that grouping the learners and dividing them into different ability groups had a significant impact on the participants' academic success, in their course of general English. In addition, the results suggested that ability grouping provides sufficient ground for methodological decisions and hence sequencing of teaching materials and procedures

Keywords: ability grouping, exposure to English, academic success, general English course

1. Introduction

It has been commonplace in studies on language learning to see Learning English as a Foreign Llanguage (EFL) has not been an exception. A survey on the literature of research in the field would reveal the amount of time and efforts which have been put into innovative ways of teaching English to non-natives (e.g. Bednarek, 2008; Seidlhofer, 2004) to help them learn more effectively. One such group of efforts can be summarized in the changes in students' grouping based on their ability level (i.e. homogenisation).

Since the introduction of formal education, the differences in the level of academic achievement and abilities among students have posed many challenges to teachers. Teachers are expected to cater for these differences within the short class time. What happens in the class is that the average student may find the lesson of the right level of difficulty whereas the slow learner tends to require more time. At the same time, the fast learner may be bored by the lengthy and simple explanations appropriate to average learners. When the needs of the weak and advanced learners are not met and the class process is not geared to the appropriate ability level of the students, problems will occur. Ability grouping therefore has been referred to as a panacea for most of such problems (et al. Ireson, Hallam, Hack, Clark, & Plewis, 2002).

Students' varying abilities and academic achievement have been well researched during the last couple of decades. Yet the findings reported so far are inconclusive: some recommend individualized teaching whereas some others suggest ability grouping as successful methods within the classroom (e.g., Argy, Brewer, &, Rees, 1996). In Iran, however, few studies have addressed the problem and hence there is little evidence whether homoginising students would help promoting Iranians' EFL achievement. The present study therefore aims to investigate if ability grouping may function as a successful way of meeting students' differences. In other words, we intend to find out if homoginising learners, through using a placement test, will significantly help them become more successful in their learning of English.

2. Literature Review

There have been numerous studies in the literature on placing language learners in various groups according to their proficiency or level of English. One such study (Slavin, 1987) defined ability grouping as "some means of grouping students for instruction by ability or achievement so as to reduce their heterogeneity" (p. 79). It is believed that in this way students are easier to manage and keep attentive (Hallinan & Sorensen, 1983). Further, Kerckhoff(1986) pointed out that high ability students can move faster without having to slow down for their less competent friends. In contrast with that, Hallinan and Sorensen (1983) suggest that low ability students can benefit from this segregation because the teachers can provide them with appropriate curriculum and pace of instruction.

In addition, grouping has been affected by diverse theories and therefore has been practiced differently. …

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