Thursday, June 23, 2011

Grouping

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Grouping students by ability is a very important issue in Irish secondary schools. The identifying of some students as being more or less academic than others has a numbers of positive and negative affects for both the learner and the teacher. The principle forms of grouping used by second-level schools are referred to as streaming, banding, setting and mixed ability. The main reason I chose this essay is that I feel that the way pupils are grouped has a direct impact on the way we learn, and what we learn. Having being taught in a streamed school and at present teaching in a mixed ability school, I feel that I can draw on experiences from both methods of grouping pupils to explain my views on the issue.

In the first section of this of this essay I will introduce mixed ability grouping as a method to group students into various classes. Then I will focus on the benefits of this form of grouping focusing in particular on the benefits it has for the learner.

In the second section I will examine the curricular implications of mixed ability grouping with particular attention to a second year business studies class whom I teach.

Mixed ability grouping is one of the four principle forms of grouping used in second-level schools. In mixed ability grouping pupils are placed in heterogeneous groups i.e. pupils have diverse abilities and intelligence’s. According to Drudy and Lynch this may be achieved in two ways

(a)Indirectly by placing pupils in groups alphabetically or by some similar random method.

(b)Directly by first establishing the ability level of the students and then ensuring that each class has individuals representing the various levels of ability.

However it is important to note that as Kyriacou points out “all classes of pupils, even those where selection of attainment has been made, will involve a range of ability” in essence all classes are although maybe not to such extremes are mixed ability.

Streaming, banding and setting are quiet the opposite to mixed ability grouping, as these forms of grouping involve placing pupils in groups based on their ability or academic performance. These methods of grouping are essentially labelling students as either weak, bright or average. This labelling of a students ability may affect the individuals self-esteem. Kathleen Lynch states that

“ strong tracking (or grouping by ability) has a negative effect on the self-image of those in their lower streams”.

These negative feelings which students in lower streams place on themselves may effect their school-work. These feelings as being labelled slow or weak are generally not as obvious in mixed ability classrooms. In this setting the learner is avoided the this negativity, everyone is equal.

Not only do students in low streams develop a low self-image of themselves but evidence by Hannan, Smyth er al as cited by Lynch found that students in top streams had an average lower self-image than others. As already mentioned all classes are mixed ability, even streamed classes therefore students at the lower level of a high ability class may feel inferior to their peers. The feelings associated with the labelling of students would not benefit a pupil academically or emotionally.

Mixed ability grouping allows all students to have the same opportunities and resources. Lynch states

“ students who enter low streams or bands do not perform as well as others in examinations because they are sitting ordinary level papers which lowers their grade point average (GPA)”.

She also highlights that they may not be allowed to take up particular subjects like German or science and thus they are having their education curtailed. In a mixed ability classroom the pupils have the same experiences and whether or not they continue a particular subject is their own decision and not because it is not available to that particular class. This benefits the learner in that it is their own choice and they have control over what they undertake and cannot in later life look back and decide that they would have liked to have a particular opportunity.

Linked to this idea of opportunities is resources. When students are grouped by ability the higher ability classes tend to get allocated the best resources. This view is supported by Lynch’s study where 7 percent of the principal’s whom she interviewed admitted allocating whom they saw as superior teachers to the higher ability groups or streams. This allocation of resources immediately places the lower ability groups at a disadvantage. While it does not prevail in all schools their is evidence that it does exist. This evidence would suggest that mixed ability grouping would benefit lower ability students as they would be allocated the same resources as their peers, thus giving them the same opportunities.

Taking pupils and placing them in groups based on their ability may also affect friendships. Drudy and Lynch  states
“ children allocated to different streams discontinued friendships”.

They also highlight negative feelings which may exist between streams, and the development of negative stereotypes. These stereotypes may develop if students start to do what the school has done and label each other and thus develop negative attitudes towards their peers of different abilities. When learners are placed in mixed ability groups no differences are being highlighted so pupils view each other in the same way and may form friendships with individuals for other reasons without taking into account someone’s academic ability. Berk identifies that close friendships can improve an adolescent’s attitudes towards school. These relationships can promote good school adjustment, and if students are depreived of these relationships through ability grouping then it may have an adverse affect on their school.



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