Student grouping consists of a variety strategies used to foster collaboration between peer learners and facilitate a a diverse learning environment where all students can contribute to and learn from each other. The two main classifications we discuss in student grouping are heterogeneous and homogeneous groups. There are very good arguments to support the use of both at times in the classroom environment.
When considering grouping students there are a number of factors that influence my decisions. Primarily, I must consider my learning goals and use them as the basis for structuring my groups. Here are a few scenarios where I would use different types of groups:
- If my students are beginning to explore new content, I like them to share background knowledge and gain new perspectives about their current beliefs on a topic as they prepare to study. In this setting, I find a diverse heterogeneous mix of students provides the variety of perspectives needed to broaden students’ thinking.
- If my students are engaging in a project or task, I might take two separate approaches. One would be to create homogenous groups of students based on interest or learning style and allow them some autonomy in customizing the activity to their taste. Whereas another group strategy I might use would be to carefully create heterogeneous groups of students with differing strengths who would then have specific roles in the group.
- If my students are at a stage where we are beginning to synthesize and analyze new content, I am more inclined toward ability grouping. Admittedly, this is somewhat an attempt to satisfy management issues. It is easier to meet the needs of students who require more support and to ensure they are active participants when they are grouped together. Whereas higher ability students grouped together can accomplish more complex tasks without students checking out of the process or feeling lost or inferior.
Ability grouping like in the last example, also, plays a part in developing students reading and writing skills. I like to create diverse environments for students to brainstorm and participate in meaningful conversations, and most students are able to actively participate in this type of dialogue and communication with little obstruction due to literacy abilities. However, reading and writing can be difficult if high ability students feel burdened by average or lower ability students or when struggling students are insecure or need significantly more support to achieve the learning goals.
During reading and writing tasks, I like to incorporate groups for the benefit of analyzing a text or peer editing and other tasks. I heavily consider their reading and writing skill-level and tend toward ability grouping at the onset of these tasks. As students gain confidence and comfort with the concepts, I revert back to more diverse groups where they exchange their new ideas and defend their positions. This provides some scaffolding for the students in need, while other students can continue on to deeper content without stalling out.