Individual differences are bound to occur within a classroom. This week I will be discussing whether this should be taken into consideration in education and whether action should be taken in order to reduce or to accommodate the variability among students or whether everyone should be educated in an equal manner.
An example of individual variance in education occurs when analysing the effects of gender differences. It has been documented that girls have increasingly performed better than boys in public exam sessions. In 1996, in England and Wales, girls performed significantly better than boys in 15 of the most popular GCSE subjects and in 13 of the most popular A levels subjects.
Today, individual differences are considered in most schools ans in this blog I will be discussing in particular the effects of grouping in education based on students’ academic abilities and whether this is beneficial for the students.
Ability grouping is the practice of creating different groups of students based on their abilities and achievements in order to provide instruction that is specifically relevant to each particular group’s needs. Although ability grouping has become a standard educational practice in most schools, it inspires heated debates extensive research and much controversy. Moreover, according to Huitt (1997) there are two main approaches to grouping:
1.Between-class Ability Grouping
Between-class grouping refers to the system in which students are separated into different classes based on their ability levels (Davdson, 2013). This system is used much more in secondary schools than in primary schools, in fact it has become the standard in most secondary schools today (VanderHart, 2006).
Research does not support this strategy in terms of beneficial learning to all students. It has been found that only the students that are assigned to the top level of the group seem to benefit and that those assigned to the middle and lower ability levels do not (Davidson, 2013). This undoubtedly raises a question of equality. Furthermore between-class ability grouping has been labelled as a tool of discrimination against students who are economically disadvantaged or are members of minority groups. These students are said to often be placed in groups where opportunities for academically based education is significantly limited and vocational training takes priority (Roberts & Inman, 2007).
However, research studies supporting the between-ability grouping system argues that it provides students with appropriate targeted instruction for their specific academic abilities. They also argue that lower-achieving students are able to ask questions without the risk of embarrassment in front of their higher-achieving peers and that the higher achieving students can benefit from more in-depth education, whereas the lower achievers can benefit from more extensive coverage of the core topics. However this raises issues regarding the lower-achieving groups receiving a lower quality of education than the higher-achieving groups (Davidson, 2013).
2.Within-class Ability Grouping
Within-class grouping is the practice of dividing a class of students with diverse abilities into groups based on ability and achievement level.The purpose of this is in order to provide appropriate specific instruction to high achieving students and to provide more assistance to the lower achieving students.This system is used much more often in primary schools than in secondary schools (VanderHart, 2006).
On the whole, research tends to support within-class ability grouping and find that it is beneficial to the learning of most students. However many research studies also argue against ability grouping because of concern for the psychological and social well-being of the students, especially those that are placed in the lower-achieving groups. This can potentially lead to students feeling unsure of their academic potential, losing their sense of self-esteem and developing a low self-expectation (Davidson, 2013).
After studying both sides of the on-going debate whether individual differences should be classed into separate groups or not I have come to my own conclusion that I do believe that the grouping system is beneficial to students. As many researchers have previously suggested, placing students in groups based on their academic abilities provide the lower-achieving students with the appropriate education that they are able to process whilst providing the higher-achieving students who have shown to have more academic ability with more in-depth coverage of the course content (Davidson, 2013).
Davidson. H. (2013). Ability Grouping. The Gale Group. Retrieved from http://www.education.com/reference/article/ability-grouping/#A on February 2013.
Huitt, W. (1997). Considering individual differences. Educational Psychology Interactive.Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University. Retrieved from http://www.edpsycinteractive.org/topics/process/indvdiff.html on February 2013.
Roberts, J. L., & Inman, T. F. (2007). Strategies for differentiating instruction: Best practices for the classroom. Waco, TX: Prufrock Press.
VanderHart, P. G. (2006). Why do some schools group by ability? Some evidence from the NAEP. American Journal of Economics and Sociology, 65(2), 435–463.