Meeting Every Child's Academic Needs A Teacher Testifies to the Visible Benefits of Grouping Students According to Skill Levels

Article excerpt

WHEN I began teaching, I soon learned that my students possessed varied levels of academic ability. Some of the children already knew letters and sounds and were beginning to read. Others were just learning to recognize letters. A few couldn't tell me their names.

Stumped by these vast differences, I felt that the only way to keep from boring some or losing others was to divide the class into flexible groups. I proceeded with initial misgivings fed by literature that suggested such grouping would devastate the self-esteem of the less academically advanced children.

To my relief, I found the opposite to be true. Ability grouping gave these children more confidence. When they found that they compared favorably with their peers, they were relieved not to compete with children who always knew the answers.

Not only did this grouping benefit less-confident learners, it helped children at every level. It allowed me to zero in on the exact curriculum level of each group and teach only the skills that those children needed.

Gifted children reengage

This was a benefit to my academically gifted students. Instead of waiting for others to complete work, they moved ahead. Behavior problems, which had surfaced when these children were bored, quickly vanished as they lost themselves in the excitement of learning.

This kind of grouping also helped eliminate the negative social pressure placed on honor students.

All of these experiences show that homogenous grouping is the perfect alternative to heterogenous grouping, where children sit, glassy-eyed, while struggling classmates read aloud.

So why doesn't every school offer classrooms where students with comparable skills are grouped together to learn certain subjects?

There are several myths that prevent public schools from adopting this practice:

Myth No. 1: The brightest students will manage to learn no matter what the environment.

In the currently popular, but often misused, outcome-based curriculums, the bright students are often used as mini-teachers and encouraged to help other students.

There's nothing wrong with peer tutoring. However, if the students who are teaching are being held back until others catch up, not only do they become bored, they are denied the chance to realize their academic potential. …


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