Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Ability Grouping

As an inclusion teacher, my co-teacher and I use ability grouping in certain subjects to differentiate for the learning levels of our students. You need to realize however, that ability grouping comes in different shapes and sizes in our inclusion class, because leveled grouping isn't always good for the soul, nor is it conducive to the real world in which people are constantly expected to work with people of varied abilities. To me, inclusion means that everybody is included, but at the same time, everyone gets what they need. This takes a delicate balance of whole and small group instruction in order for true inclusion to occur.

John Hollifield wrote the article, Ability Grouping in Elementary Schools back in 1987. It is an article that, "summarizes the conclusions of Robert E. Slavin's 1986 comprehensive review of research on the different types of ability grouping in elementary schools. The purpose of his review was to identify grouping practices that promote student achievement."

In our class, pre-assessment helps us to determine the levels that students are functioning at across various content areas. As teachers, this pre-assessment feedback helps us decide if we need to level/group our students. To me, I am always intrigued to see how similar or scattered the data is, as it is rarely the same.

Without knowing anything about Slavin's research, I was happy to discover that many of our classroom grouping plans were found as successful practices in his eyes. According to Slavin, "students should identify primarily with a heterogeneous class. They should be regrouped by ability only when reducing heterogeneity is particularly important for learning, as is the case with math or reading instruction." That's us.

Slavin also states that grouping plans should reduce student heterogeneity in the specific skill being taught, not in IQ or overall achievement level. Every individual in our class gets what they need. Everyone is taught the same skill, and if we break into small group instruction all content is scaffolded around the same principles. Questioning is also differentiated so that every student has a chance to be and feel successful, yet each student is working on the same skill or content area material at the same time. IQ results such as those from a Stanford-Binet or Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) are never used as grouping tools for our classroom. In our class, IQ scores are only discussed during CSE meetings as part of the puzzle in the classification/re-evaluation process.

Another positive connection to Slavin's findings is that our class grouping plans allow for frequent reassessment of student placement and for easy reassignment based on student progress. Students are always reminded that they are stewards of their own learning vessels. While we the teachers are there to teach and share information, it is up to the children to allow that information in and to find a place in their knowledge warehouse. We've noticed that a positive correlation exists between active learners and learning progress, as it often occurs when students work hard to document extra reading or math practice, and that these same students learn to reach out to their teachers for assistance via e-mail or through their blog postings when they want assistance or they want to share what they've learned.

Pre-assessment and e-mail communication from students and parents as feedback has really helped us as teachers to vary the level and pace of instruction according to student learning needs. While it may seem very basic in addition to pre-assessment. E-mail is a private communication tool in which students can connect with teachers to receive direct instruction in an area in which he or she is struggling. In our inclusion class we have a combined e-mail address: collaborative@herricks.org, that reaches both co-teachers when a student is struggling or needs assistance. Either teacher can respond with an appropriate response or a link to a website for remediation. When students have a deficit that pre-assessment doesn't reveal, e-mail is an easier [less embarrassing way] to convey to your teachers that you don't understand rather than raising his or her hand in the middle of class. I would love to extend this form of assistive grouping and communication to Skyping with students, but I'll have to experiment with this at a later time.

Learners are different and unique in their learning style and intelligences. Between
Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory, Sternberg's Triarchic Theory of Human Intelligence, I.Q. tests and the many theories on learning styles, there are a plethora of ways to measure, analyze and group children. While I rely on some of these theories and a few of these tools to meet the needs of my students, I would much rather prefer that my students are included in all aspects of learning whole group or not, and that they, as fifth graders, have opportunities to play to learn. Childhood is not a race.


loonyhiker said...

Great post! I used always do pre and post tests in order to teach students. I think it makes more sense to teach to their needs rather than to their IQs or labels. My students really liked learning this way and were engaged enough that I had little behavior problems. I think this was the best way for me to teach.

loonyhiker said...

Ok, you won't get rich or famous by doing this and nothing bad will happen to you if you don't, but if you get a chance (in your free time! ha!), I am tagging you for this meme. You can read about the rules here: http://successfulteaching.blogspot.com/2008/05/another-meme.html