Damage Caused by Ability Grouping

Discussion in 'Elementary Education' started by Tyler B., Oct 3, 2015.

  1. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2012
    Messages:
    1,382
    Likes Received:
    553

    Oct 3, 2015

    There's been so much research showing that ability grouping is an ineffective instructional strategy, but this article also shows it's a contributor to misbehavior in many classrooms.

    I think teachers group their students this way in order to meet diverse needs. It's a noble rationale, but I would challenge those teachers to find a better way to teach.

    I'd be interested in knowing how teachers differentiate instruction without ability grouping.
     
  2.  
  3. gr3teacher

    gr3teacher Phenom

    Joined:
    Sep 13, 2013
    Messages:
    4,304
    Likes Received:
    887

    Oct 3, 2015

    I have a child reading at a second grade reading level, and another reading at a high school reading level. I will never, ever accept the idea that I am serving both of their needs by having them reading the same literature. Sorry.
     
  4. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2012
    Messages:
    1,382
    Likes Received:
    553

    Oct 3, 2015

    You and I have discussed this before, and I understand your position. However it's not supported by research.

    If both of your students are 8, they have about the same level of emotional maturity. If you put them both into the same age-appropriate book, lets say Amber Brown is not a Crayon, and used the book as a mentor text for writing instruction. The book would be perfect. No one in your whole school is as good a writer as Paula Danziger.

    Your high school level reader should have ample opportunities to self-select high interest books that engage her.
     
  5. otterpop

    otterpop Phenom

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2013
    Messages:
    4,250
    Likes Received:
    1,823

    Oct 3, 2015

    It would absolutely depend on what you're doing.

    How is that kid who can barely read going to read the book? Audio book,read aloud, or...

    A high level kid who has to sit and listen to a low level kid read is going to get bored eventually, whether you're pairing them for partner reading or reading together at a table. You could have the lower level kid read with an audio book and the higher level kid read on their own. That would be one way to differentiate.

    Still, though, the low level kid might struggle with phonics, and to me, that's where small groups are really useful. If you put a high level kid in the same group with the kid who can't figure out vowel digraphs or syllabication in words like "shouted" and "misreading", I think you're asking for more behavior problems than if you're ability grouping.

    :2cents:
     
  6. gr3teacher

    gr3teacher Phenom

    Joined:
    Sep 13, 2013
    Messages:
    4,304
    Likes Received:
    887

    Oct 3, 2015

    Looking through that article... what's going to highlight the fact that one kid is a far lower reader more? Me giving them text that is actually appropriate for where they are reading? Or letting them suffer through a book they aren't academically prepared for while I'm holding their hand the whole time and telling my higher readers to have independent reading time (reading the sorts of books that I should be guiding them through, at that)? If I were a low reader, I'd feel worse about being clearly singled out and hand-held through a book my neighbor was zipping through than I would feel about just being given an appropriate book in the first place.
     
  7. Caesar753

    Caesar753 Multitudinous

    Joined:
    Jun 10, 2007
    Messages:
    14,601
    Likes Received:
    2,711

    Oct 3, 2015

    I completely agree with this.
     
  8. swansong1

    swansong1 Virtuoso

    Joined:
    May 19, 2007
    Messages:
    6,763
    Likes Received:
    1,718

    Oct 3, 2015

    Research isn't the end-all, be-all to education. I have ability grouped for more than 40 years with excellent results. I'm certainly not going to force my high readers to sit through inappropriate reading material any more than I would make my low readers sit through inappropriate material.
     
  9. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2010
    Messages:
    6,401
    Likes Received:
    2,253

    Oct 3, 2015

    The article does little to explain how to implement the idea of not highlighting the differences in ability whether it be tracking in the learning environment or differentiation (another form of tracking) in a classroom with a high variability of differences.

    Our society is driven by pecking order. Even the idea of learning is a pecking order by teachers. Why does the student who needs several attempts to master the curriculum deserve the A when another student can do it in one? It is irrelevant where these students are. Our sorting mindset will always point out these differences in a system that is not about learning but about measuring.
     
  10. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2012
    Messages:
    1,382
    Likes Received:
    553

    Oct 3, 2015

    The evidence that ability grouping causes damage to learners, especially the low achieving children, is very strong if not incontrovertible.

    To an ability grouping reading teacher who wanted to try a different approach, I would suggest moving slowly toward whole group reading by starting with a special week where all the students are using the same set of essays, stories or poems. Care should be taken to make adjustments for the students at the top and and bottom by offering extensions and extra support as needed.

    This week would be a time where the teacher learns how to meet diverse academic needs while using the class literature as an anchor text.
     
  11. gr3teacher

    gr3teacher Phenom

    Joined:
    Sep 13, 2013
    Messages:
    4,304
    Likes Received:
    887

    Oct 3, 2015

    I've seen plenty of research that ability grouping helps gifted learners. The only research I've ever seen that it doesn't help relies on the caveat that many teachers don't alter their instruction to fit gifted learners.
     
  12. bella84

    bella84 Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,934
    Likes Received:
    1,923

    Oct 3, 2015

    Research also shows guided reading to be an effective instructional practice, even though it involves grouping students by ability. I agree in having a heterogenous whole class and finding a variety of ways to differentiate for whole class instruction and assignments, but I also see having a second block of instruction that involves grouping students into small groups based on instructional need or level as entirely appropriate. I've never had behavior issues arise in my class due to having guided reading groups or math intervention groups. I create a culture of respect in my classroom, where everything gets what he/she needs, even when we all need something different. A student working three years below grade-level is simply in need of something different than a student working on grade-level, as is a student working three-years above grade-level. That doesn't mean that they shouldn't all come together for whole-class lessons and activities, but it also doesn't mean that they should be denied instruction that meets them where they are at.
     
  13. bella84

    bella84 Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,934
    Likes Received:
    1,923

    Oct 3, 2015

    See, I don't think we're entirely disagreeing. In my experience, good instruction includes both whole group reading instruction with grade appropriate text, but it also incorporates leveled reading instruction, which happens to involve grouping students by reading ability. Neither one should be used in isolation. Students should get both.
     
  14. gr3teacher

    gr3teacher Phenom

    Joined:
    Sep 13, 2013
    Messages:
    4,304
    Likes Received:
    887

    Oct 3, 2015

    As far as guided reading goes, I think it's important to keep groups flexible... I will often end up having weeks where I have high and low readers together for a particular concept, because they have a shared need. I have my reading groups, but I try to reevaluate them reasonably frequently, and if I'm going to be focusing on [particular reading skill] with one group for a week, I'll put other kids in that group for the week if they need to be there.
     
  15. readingrules12

    readingrules12 Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2010
    Messages:
    3,381
    Likes Received:
    817

    Oct 3, 2015

    Tyler you are correct, but so is gr3 teacher. Ability grouping doesn't work well. However, to treat all students the same and teach to the middle isn't the best choice. What doesn't work is hard-locked ability grouping where all reading or math instruction is done with 3 specific groups-"high", "medium", "low". This does give some extra benefit to the high students though, but not to the other 2 groups.

    What does benefit all three groups is the following: Find some way to accelerate and challenge the students that are in the high and medium groups. This can be giving them more challenging work, higher level etc.

    The low students need to be surrounded by high or medium students much of the time. Low readers who only work in a group of low readers often do less well. This can be in having students in the middle work with them on areas that they are struggling. This is often in partners or groups of 4. The middle students benefit by having to explain how they do the problems to the lower students. Also individual or very small group tutoring has been shown to be helpful.

    Instead of going on and on about it--gr3 teacher is correct that some form of differentiating is needed when you have such a huge gap in reading. Ability grouping though is not the best way to do this. How then?

    Some good software programs that personalize instruction to the students are also very helpful. IXL in math is an example.
     
  16. wldywall

    wldywall Connoisseur

    Joined:
    Aug 5, 2006
    Messages:
    1,947
    Likes Received:
    34

    Oct 3, 2015

    Currently I have a reading class with 4th graders (on the young end, at 9) and a 7th grader who will soon be 14 in the same class.

    Do I have behavior issues? Oh boy do I! They are all humiliated to be grouped the way they are. The whole school is grouped like this.

    It doesn't help me teach reading, I spend the whole class dealing with behavior. The range in the class is also really wide, which hurts.

    What good does it do to have a highly intelligent 7th grader in the same class as a 4th grader merely because his reading tests (on computer) are low...he's dyslexic! He can't read it well, but he understands everything read to him! Intellectually the other kids cannot compete with him, he finds he has to change his responses to simplify them for the younger kids.

    That said if I had a class with same age kids that were at different levels I would use a guided reading model, just because reading texts at the level the student is at is the right thing to do. Expecting kids to summarize a text filled with vocabulary they do not understand is not only a bit unfair but counterproductive.
     
  17. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,788
    Likes Received:
    251

    Oct 3, 2015

    Tyler, in the last thread you started about ability grouping, we went back and forth about the research you cited, with no real evidence to support your claims at the end of the day. If I remember correctly, none of the articles you cited demonstrated experimental control in which ability grouping was shown to cause harm. There's simply no support for your statement, "The evidence that ability grouping causes damage to learners, especially the low achieving children, is very strong if not incontrovertible." There actually isn't a single study you've provided to support this, quite strong, conclusion you've drawn.

    Second, the link you cited is not a research article. It describes the author's perspective. It provides no evidence itself.

    Third, ability grouping could refer to a lot of different things, from tracking to small grouping reading or even RtI. Even those individual instructional settings could be implemented in a variety of ways - fluid vs stagnant, for example, or even small things such as what they're called (e.g., color names vs. "low" and "high").

    Tyler, it's one thing to highlight success you've had in your particular classroom, and that skill groups aren't a part of it. It's quite another to claim that skill-based grouping doesn't work at all, and actually hurts kids. The simple truth is that skill groups have been a component of hundreds of research studies demonstrating positive impact, ranging from social skills/psychoeducational groups to teaching reading. Moreover, the fundamental concept of skill-based groups is differentiated instruction, which is well demonstrated empirically and theoretically as central to most educational models.

    I admire your passion and enthusiasm, but as a professional I think you have the responsibility to respond appropriately evidence. I don't think you are. This isn't simply a matter of me drawing one conclusion from ambiguous research, and you another. This isn't an "agree to disagree" or "different philosophies" kind of situation. There have been no studies you've been able to produce to support your assertion. None.

    Given that this is not the first thread about ability groupings you've started, I think the ball is squarely in your court to either present the "incontrovertible" research you cite, or acknowledge that this is a personal belief, not one based on a professional approach to education.
     
  18. OUOhYeah

    OUOhYeah Comrade

    Joined:
    Nov 17, 2014
    Messages:
    285
    Likes Received:
    21

    Oct 3, 2015

    I've talked to Tyler about this and I completely agree with this approach and idea. Doing a book in 5th grade such as Hatchet read aloud is good to get them thinking and doing prereading activities with background knowledge. Then, have them study that specific author's craft in writing from verb usage to figurative language will help them comprehend the book. Then, have them reread by themselves or with a partner to help better understand the book with activities like, finding specifics in the book or making it so they don't feel as though they are just rereading. I've looked this strategy up on YouTube and really talked to Tyler about it. It works.
     
  19. YoungTeacherGuy

    YoungTeacherGuy Phenom

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2007
    Messages:
    4,468
    Likes Received:
    1,497

    Oct 3, 2015

    Does this mean you don't believe in RtI?

    I had a lot of success as a classroom teacher. I always formed my reading groups based on ability. I never considered creating groups any other way.
     
  20. YoungTeacherGuy

    YoungTeacherGuy Phenom

    Joined:
    Oct 21, 2007
    Messages:
    4,468
    Likes Received:
    1,497

    Oct 3, 2015

    What do you do for kids who can't decode multisyllabic words in the upper grades?

    Personally, I feel as though handing a challenging text to a student who can't even decode is irresponsible.
     
  21. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2012
    Messages:
    1,382
    Likes Received:
    553

    Oct 3, 2015

    My friends can deny the research. After all how could Marzano, Slavin, Oakes and the rest possibly be right?

    What they show is that ability grouping, especially for the low groups, is ineffective compared to other techniques. There are also self-esteem issues with both the low and high that can interfere with learning. That doesn't mean teachers shouldn't address the needs of the very high and very low.

    If there's abundant evidence that some instructional technique doesn't work, I think we educators should find a way to meet our kids' needs in another way.
     
  22. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,788
    Likes Received:
    251

    Oct 4, 2015

    Tyler, we've both cited research generally to support our positions. It's time to get specific again. For other readers of this thread, I'd refer you back to Tyler's previous post for a discussion of what I referenced before.

    First, clarification: What I'm assuming we're discussing is the use of fluid, skill-based small groups in a classroom setting for the expressed purpose of differentiating instruction. I'm not referring to anything more. You've cited studies before highlighting that when ability groups are used in a certain way, problems come up. I don't disagree that there are right and wrong ways to use skill groups, or many different instructional techniques. That's not what I'm referring to here.

    So, my assumption is that you're making the argument that skill-based groups - used in any way - are bad.

    First, a discussion of burden: You aren't arguing just that ability groups lack evidence. You're arguing that they actually produce a specific harm to students - a "harm-added" argument. As such, the burden is on you to produce evidence of this.

    That being said, I'm happy to at least get the ball rolling by highlighting a particular intervention that includes the use of skill groups with positive results, and without the negative effects you claim:


    http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/interventionreport.aspx?sid=156
     
  23. Backroads

    Backroads Aficionado

    Joined:
    Apr 23, 2010
    Messages:
    3,684
    Likes Received:
    1,971

    Oct 4, 2015

    Tyler, the moment I give a student or two, say, instruction on decoding they need, I just placed them in a small group.
     
  24. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2012
    Messages:
    1,382
    Likes Received:
    553

    Oct 4, 2015

    The research isn't against any kind of grouping. What it's says, "students of low ability actually perform worse when placed in homogeneous groups with students of low ability" - Robert Marzano Classroom Instruction that Works

    I teach at a mixed race school of mostly high income families, but we have two low income apartment complexes that feed into our school. If I grouped my students by ability, nearly all my apartment kids would be in the same group. These are where my children of color mostly live. Think about that harmful message I would be giving those children.
     
  25. Pashtun

    Pashtun Fanatic

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2013
    Messages:
    2,985
    Likes Received:
    435

    Oct 4, 2015

    How do you address students with very poor decoding skills?
     
  26. gr3teacher

    gr3teacher Phenom

    Joined:
    Sep 13, 2013
    Messages:
    4,304
    Likes Received:
    887

    Oct 4, 2015

    Instead, they get the message that the work the person next to them is doing easily is too hard for them to do without extra support. Is that really a much better of a message for them?
     
  27. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2012
    Messages:
    1,382
    Likes Received:
    553

    Oct 4, 2015

    These are nearly always my ELL students. They need to know their sounds and they need to learn to expect the text to be meaningful. Often they will make an illogical substitution because they don't expect to get any meaning from their reading.

    I'll hear an ELL student say, The cowboy got on his house and rode away.

    I teach the decoding and meaning together. After a decoding lesson, one-on-one or small group, I provide for tons of practice with me, a peer tutor or parent volunteer.

    In my experience, it's very rare for a non-ELL fifth grader to need any phonics.
     
  28. Pashtun

    Pashtun Fanatic

    Joined:
    Jun 17, 2013
    Messages:
    2,985
    Likes Received:
    435

    Oct 4, 2015

    Can you give me a bit more detail as to how your small group looks and works for a decoding lesson? I assume it is not ability grouped, so I am curious how it looks and works.

    In my experience, there is always a small group of 4th graders that need to work on fluency and decoding, many are not EL students.
     
  29. Backroads

    Backroads Aficionado

    Joined:
    Apr 23, 2010
    Messages:
    3,684
    Likes Received:
    1,971

    Oct 4, 2015

    Yet by pairing that student with you or whomever, you are still giving them the message they need extra help. How do you avoid this message?
     
  30. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2010
    Messages:
    6,401
    Likes Received:
    2,253

    Oct 4, 2015

    As I said before, the problem isn't the grouping, it is the attitude and culture in education and society. That is the failing and until the culture of the school environment changes, there is no way around students feeling bad for not performing as well as others.
     
  31. gr3teacher

    gr3teacher Phenom

    Joined:
    Sep 13, 2013
    Messages:
    4,304
    Likes Received:
    887

    Oct 4, 2015

    In a perfect world, public schools would be able to blend in a Montessori approach, but that isn't the reality we live in, and never will be without major legislative changes at the national level.
     
  32. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2012
    Messages:
    1,382
    Likes Received:
    553

    Oct 4, 2015

    I think I confused some of my colleagues on this board by not defining "ability grouping". If a teacher gathers 5 students who missed #15 on a test and reteaches a concept, that's not ability grouping. It's skill grouping and effective teachers do this all the time.

    If a teacher forms fairly static groups of students, let's say, into 3 reading groups into high, grade level and low achieving students, that's ability grouping.
     
  33. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

    Joined:
    Nov 20, 2012
    Messages:
    2,418
    Likes Received:
    1,175

    Oct 4, 2015

    What about differentiating the level text students are working on a particular reading skill with in order to match their current ZPD?
     
  34. bella84

    bella84 Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2012
    Messages:
    3,934
    Likes Received:
    1,923

    Oct 4, 2015

    So what do you consider flexible guided reading groups, where students are grouped based on their instructional reading level and have the opportunity to be moved into a new group as they progress at their own pace throughout the year?
     
  35. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,788
    Likes Received:
    251

    Oct 4, 2015

    You've really drawn an arbitrary line between skill and ability grouping. If we're going to use "skill vs ability" as traditionally used in education, "ability" would refer to immutable cognitive characteristics such as working memory, while "skill" would be a task that can be learned. Technically, no one here is arguing for "ability" grouping in the sense that kids would be assigned a permanent, fixed group based on an underlying cognitive characteristic.

    On the other hand, we also aren't arguing for an extremely short-term, one-time group to fix test items. We are generally talking about standing, fluid groups based on skill level/instructional need. As kids move up and down, and they would be reassigned accordingly.
     
  36. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,788
    Likes Received:
    251

    Oct 4, 2015

    Again, I'd ask you to cite the research itself, not Marzano's summary.

    I hear you with this. I would still side with using small group reading based on skill level groups, but I understand where you're coming from, and can see how it would be difficult to accomplish with such a demographic breakdown.
     
  37. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2012
    Messages:
    1,382
    Likes Received:
    553

    Oct 4, 2015

    EdEd, if you'd like more information, I'd refer you to the book I quoted. Marzano is a researcher who specializes in meta-studies. He collects hundreds of studies and looks for patterns. All of his studies are listed in the back of each book.

    You seem kind of touchy on this topic. Usually you are able to view sincere but possibly contriversal topics from more of a distance.
     
  38. EdEd

    EdEd Aficionado

    Joined:
    Jan 12, 2011
    Messages:
    3,788
    Likes Received:
    251

    Oct 5, 2015

    I apologize Tyler - you're right that I've gotten a bit heated in my responses. I value this community, and the progressive dialogue that generally happens. I do find it valuable to have more calm discussion, but one of my triggers is, admittedly, when I sense that folks keep making a point or argument without really responding to evidence presented the contrary. In a few of my other in-person professional settings, I experience this pretty frequently, and value the space created on this forum in which people are okay with being held accountable for their view points.

    In this case, this seems to be an ongoing point you're making, but aren't really responding to either 1) the evidence presented against your the foundation of your main point, or 2) all of the arguments others are presenting against it. It seems that you are responding to some folks, but ignoring other comments - not just from me.

    In my opinion, when confronted with evidence contrary to your point, it's not sufficient to simply state that the evidence is "incontrovertible" or to refer to someone with a big name (i.e., Marzano), and claim that they've researched it. You certainly don't have an obligation to continue engaging with the research discussion, but in my opinion it's not fair to the community to continue hammering your point, as though it's a given, while simultaneously ignoring the discussion questioning the foundation of what you're saying.

    Thinking more about why I may have gotten frustrated, I don't mind disagreement - I really appreciate it when it can happen in a productive manner. Otherwise, I wouldn't be here. However, when people are unwilling to respond to specific and valid points or evidence presented against what they're saying, the foundation of this forum is eroded - the very contract that binds us all is broken, and the reason for engaging with each other becomes somewhat pointless.

    If you're interested, here are the points that I don't think have been addressed:

    Defining skill/ability groups as fluid, ongoing instructional groups such as guided reading groups based on reading level:

    1) Skill groups have been found to successfully been part of hundreds of evidence-based instructional approaches, without demonstrating any negative effects;

    2) Plenty of educators, including myself and others posting on this thread, have used ability groups successfully without noticing negative effects;

    3) The research you've cited demonstrating negative effects of ability groups have never isolated the variable of ability grouping - they have always included ability groups in instructional contexts with other variables known to hurt students, such as low expectations. As such, there's no way of really knowing the detriments were due to low expectations, for example, or ability grouping.

    Here's where I'm would concede that you have a valid perspective:

    1) There are certainly potentially negative side effects of ability groups, and certainly wrong ways of doing them. We should be careful anytime we communicate that a child isn't as skilled as another, monitor closely for any negative effects, and be sure that any such strategy is "worth the cost" - that the benefit of the strategy outweighs the potential negatives.

    Perhaps this is a way to unify our understandings: This concept of "side effects" is not new - from special education placement to use of consequences in the classroom, and we frequently accept that some harm may be caused, if the net benefit is positive. Perhaps this is the case with ability groups - perhaps kids may experience some unwanted consequences from being placed in a low group. However, if done right, the benefit of differentiated instruction far outweighs this benefit.

    Thoughts?
     
  39. a2z

    a2z Virtuoso

    Joined:
    Sep 16, 2010
    Messages:
    6,401
    Likes Received:
    2,253

    Oct 5, 2015

    I can't, but I am sure someone can contact the author to find out exactly what he was thinking. A link to his e-mail is at the end of the article.
     
  40. Tyler B.

    Tyler B. Groupie

    Joined:
    Feb 21, 2012
    Messages:
    1,382
    Likes Received:
    553

    Oct 5, 2015

    The research shows the most damage occurs when students are ability grouped across grade levels in a school-wide systemic way. There's a low-income school in Ohio where the entire school has students move to different classrooms for math and reading. Fragile, low-income children can have as many as 4 different teachers each day.

    Within-class grouping has been found to be less damaging because these groups can be rearranged more easily, the students are accountable to just one teacher and less instructional time is lost due to movement.
     
  41. cupcakequeen

    cupcakequeen Comrade

    Joined:
    Sep 10, 2014
    Messages:
    276
    Likes Received:
    63

    Oct 5, 2015

    Since I work with 6 fifth graders, I just want to throw in my experience. All but one of them are receiving intensive phonics instruction. They are reading from a 1st grade to a mid 3rd grade level. Several struggle with the most basic phonics rules. Based on my 4th graders and their current reading levels, I'm pretty sure I'll still be doing phonics with them as 5th graders as well.

    It really varies by school, but just know that there ARE 5th graders who need phonics.
     

Share This Page

Members Online Now

Total: 422 (members: 2, guests: 405, robots: 15)
test