Benefits and Critisms towards Groups and Grouping

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Social needs in Maslows hierarchy of needs (Borrington & Stimpson, (2003) form a motivational factor in the life of a human being. These needs mean having a rewarding relationship with others at work or at school (p 183). Similarly the growing body of psychological evidence suggest that peer group is particularly important at the adolescent stage (11 to 18 years) of development for most young people. (Kelly, 1978, p.94). The peer group is an important factor in the adolescents' development of a personal value system. Since acceptance by the peer group is very important to them, adolescents often conform to the group's standards and behaviour. (GED 101,2006, p118).

If we accept that it is the duty of the school to support adolescents through this period, to help them with this task as well as to attend to their academic and intellectual needs, then we must keep this dimension of our work in mind in all our planning (Kelly, 1978, p.95). In deciding to have the low achievers ability grouping in 2007, GCS management had in mind to give the students the best that the school could offer them.

Criteria for Grouping

Kelly (1978) claims that there are four broad approaches in subdividing a class into groups. There are many teachers who, faced with a mixed-ability class will group the pupils according to their abilities; in other words they will solve the problems presented to them by the "unstreamed" school by streaming within the class (Barker-Lunn 1970 cited in Kelly, p.96). Kelly (1978) adds that pupils are grouped according to their previous achievements in the subject concerned and can then be pushed on at a rate that is right for their level of attainment in a group with others whose pace of working is roughly similar. In this kind of situation the teacher prepares not one class lesson but four or five group lessons, and thus covers the content of the course at a rate appropriate to each group.(p97) Following up from Kelly's idea GCS adopted between class streaming for low achievers.

Students are placed in classes based on the following factors such as performance on achievement tests, how much teachers think they have already learned, what teachers think they are capable of and what they plan to do following graduation (Oaks, 16 cited in Katie Johnson 2002). The practice of dividing students in more homogeneous groups based on ability or tracking emerges as the solution to meeting the needs of all students (Oaks 15). Johnson (2005) further emphasized that it makes sense to group students with peers that are in approximately the same place in the process of learning. The fact that GCS developed ability grouping as an organisational strategy for school is evidenced that not all students learn at the same rate or in the same way. This type of grouping was envisioned as the way to make education efficient and effective for all students while recognising individual differences as stipulated by Katie Johnson 2002.

Types of Grouping

Judith Ireson and Susan Hallam historically recounts that grouping in the UK had been based on measures of general ability or intelligence, such as verbal reasoning or cognitive abilities. During the 1960's and 1970's such tests were used by many secondary schools to allocate pupils to streams on entry. Pupils were then taught in their streamed classes for all lessons. (Oxford Review of Education, Vol 25, No.3 1999 pg 343-344).

Streaming , Setting and Banding

Streaming is a system of grouping pupils according to all round ability in ranked classes. This single system tends to be applied across all subjects, or at least a wide range of them. (3 grouping-new.pdf). The pupils remain in ability-based classes for all subjects. (pg 5 research on effects of ability grouping).

Ireson and Hallam, say that there has been less rigid forms of grouping such as banding and setting which some schools in England have adopted.(pg344). Banding introduces flexibility by restricting the number of streams to two or three, so that each band contains a moderate range of ability and pupils may be placed either into mixed ability classes or regrouped into sets within a band for different subjects.

Setting is used to group pupils into classes on the basis of their attainment in a particular subject. This means that a pupil may be in a high set for one subject and a lower set for another.(Pg344). Such grouping tends to be based on current performance rather than the potential. (3 grouping -new.pdf).

Practical contraints such as timetabling and availability of staff sometimes reduce the amount of flexibility in setted systems. Where pupils are in sets for all subjects, setting may approximate streaming, as certain pupils end up in all the bottom sets while others are in all the top sets. (pg344)

Ability-Grouping

Ability grouping is the practice of dividing students for instruction on the basis of their perceived capacities for learning. Two most common forms of ability grouping are within class grouping and between class grouping. The effects of ability grouping on student achievement depend on the type of grouping arrangement.

Within-class grouping

Within-class grouping refers to the teachers' practice of dividing students of similar ability into small groups usually for reading or maths instruction. Within class ability grouping consistently produces larger gains than mixed ability grouping in Maths and in upper elementary grades. The positive aspects are slightly greater for lower achieving students than for average or high achievers.

Between-class grouping

Between-class grouping refers to school's practice of separate students into different classes, courses or course sequences - circular tracks - based on their achievement. Students in classes grouped by ability are said to be homogeneously grouped. (Balanced view (2002)). The between-class grouping practiced since 2008 at GCS was the option found to counteract MAP problems. Between-class grouping is in contradiction with "mixed-ability" classes which are heterogeneously grouped.

Where students spend most of the day in "high", "middle" and "low" classes and use the same or similar curricula, do not result in any achievement benefits, the ability grouped students learn the same amount as students in mixed ability classes.

Where students spend most of the day in ability tracks and use curricula substantially adjusted to their ability levels, yields consistently positive effects for high-track students. For students in lower tracks, however there is no appreciable effect on achievement, positive or negative. The end result of this differential impact is a widening of the achievement gap between high and low achievers. The magnitude of this gap moreover has been found to be greater than the achievement difference between students who stay in school and those who drop out.

Between-class grouping for particular subjects such as reading or mathematics, can produce greater achievement gains than mixed ability groups if the level and pace of instruction.

Tracking

Tracking is still used by many researchers to refer to various forms of between class grouping. The term tracking historically referred to the practice of grouping high school students by ability into a series of course with differentiated curriculum.

Sometimes different forms of grouping may be operating simultaneously at different levels within the same school (Rutter et al., 1979; Laarhoven & de Vries, 1987; Slavin, 1987) with schools typically increasing the amount of ability grouping in the later years (Benn & Chitty, 1996). In addition, the grouping practices may differ from one year to the next, in response to pressure from school inspections or changing views of staff. Even where a school has a policy of mixed ability grouping, individual teachers may group pupils by ability in their classes.(inHallam & of Ireson). In GCS ability grouping of low achievers has been decided by the Pedagogical Committee in view of enhancing achievement of these students. This decision also had an impact on the vision of the school to make every child a wholesome citizen.

History of division in the UK

Since the Mauritian schooling system follows that of UK, and also that our students take part in the UCLES examinations, it is interesting to compare the practices and views of ability grouping v/s mixed ability ones. In an article titled "ability grouping under fire" published in The TES on 4 december 1998, reads that streaming was the standard form of pupil organisation in most primary and secondary schools in the 1940s and 1950s. Its popularity nosedived in the 1960s - partly because there was little research evidence to justify the existence, but also because of growing concerns about equal opportunities. Furthermore after the 1967 Plowden report on primary education, streaming was increasingly replaced by mixed ability teaching. But the latter approach also came under fire in the 1980s when it was blamed for pupil underachievement. Since then the practice of setting pupils has enjoyed

a resurgence. Setting has been popular by many teachers and middle class parents as it has been viewed as a means of raising standards.

Mixed ability teaching is still common place in primary schools and the first two years of secondary. However, setting is increasingly used for maths and English lessons in primary school. At GCS for this special class, Maths, English and French - the core subjects - setting is used as well as more periods are being added to their time table within school hours.

How prevalent is ability grouping?

Both within class and between class ability groupings are found in elementary schools universally. This type of grouping is popular for reading instruction. On the one hand within class ability grouping encourages two or three reading groups with each group working on different materials unique to their needs and abilities. On the other hand, between-class ability grouping student from the same grade level or across grade levels may be grouped by ability for Maths instruction. For all other subjects students are instructed in mixed-ability groups.

What do people say about ability grouping?

Proponents of ability grouping say that the practice increases student achievement by allowing teachers to better tailor the pace and content of instruction to students' needs. For example teachers can provide more repetition and reinforcement of low achieving students and an advanced level of instruction to high achievers.

Defenders of ability grouping argue that it is easier for teachers to teach and manage homogeneous classes. Low achieving students feel more comfortable and participate more when they are grouped with peers of similar ability. High achieving students maintain interest and incentive in homogeneous groups, but languish when grouped with slow learners.(Refer I think balanced view).

On the history teachers' discussion forum, Andy Walker, argues that certain subjects are hard and would be impossible to teach successfully in a mixed ability environment. The needs of the majority are met in setted groups. Children are different and require different approaches. Some children are academically gifted and require specialist help; others require a more basic skills approach. Mixed ability grouping holds the best students back.

Dan Lyndon from a comprehensive boys school stated that "setting is appropriate for the school I am in as the recruited boys arriving at the school has a vast difference in their baseline education - ranging from students who literally do not have any spoken English, to those who have had no formal education as a result of wars in their home lands, to those who arrived with levels 5 or 6 in their KS2 Sats. Mixed ability would not work in this case. I am sure I can benefit the whole class as much as if I separated them effectively a Higher and a Foundation class. So although I am in principle in favour of mixed ability teaching, I have learned from my experience that it is not always appropriate." This view must have been adopted by GCS Pedagogical committee when they decided to have this ability type grouping under Mixed Ability Policy. (History discussion forum)

Ability grouping v/s Student achievement

The purpose of Robert I Slavin's 1986 review of research on the different types of ability grouping in elementary schools, was to identify grouping practices that promote student achievement by reducing the disparity in student ability levels. This aim is what GCS would like to adopt for its low achievers. The school has therefore provided the necessary ingredients for the better achievement of low achievers: viz a small group of 17 students, setting as the type of grouping, more periods for core subjects, teaching methodology adapted to children's pace, monitoring and support (be it moral, academic or even psychological - as the GCS has a psychologist in place) throughout the year from all stakeholders for this group of children.

In his article on Slavin's work, Mr John Hollifield (1987) (Eric Digest) writes that ability grouping increases student achievement by reducing the disparity in student ability levels. The assumption is that ability grouping allows the teacher to increase the pace and raise the level of instruction for high achievers on the one hand. While on the other hand it provides more individual attention, repetition, and review for low achievers. The high achievers benefit from having to compete with one another, and the low achievers benefit from not having to compete with their more able peers.

Criticisms against Ability Grouping

Opponents however contend that ability grouping not only falls to benefit any student, it also channels poor and minority students to low tracks where they receive a lower quality of instruction than other groups. This they claim contributes to a widening of the achievement gap.

Critics also make the case that the criteria used to group students are based on subjective perception and narrow views of intelligence. Students in low-achieving groups need the presence of brighter students to stimulate and encourage them. Moreover, students take on labels that stay when they are grouped by ability; for those in lower-achieving groups, labels may communicate self-fulfilling low expectations for learning. Harsher critics of ability grouping say that it is just another form of racial segregation for when students are divided on the basis of ability they are also divided by race and economics.

The article published by the British Educational Research Journal (2005) entitled "Effects of Ability Grouping on GCSE attainment reviewed the study done on over 6000 students in British secondary schools. The Research used statistical analysis to isolate different factors that might affect achievement in order to identify the specific effect of setting by ability. The study found that when other variables were controlled, the number of years of setting had virtually no effect on average GCSE attainment. Yet there was a profound effect on the attainment of individual students of the same ability who were place in higher or lower sets. (Vol 31, No.4 pp443-458). The research also enlightened the fact that differing setting policies has little or no effect on average GCSE achievement in school. The study revealed that GCSE achievement was greatly influenced by social disadvantage.

When I embarked on my research journey, I was very sceptical about the outcome of my research. I had the preconceived idea that my sample would not reveal anything that I did not know already but I was surprised of the extent of what my research outcome revealed. I need to precise that the sample used of low achievers by GCS, most of the group come from one ethnic group and have some disadvantaged background. (Will see if this can be added here and how or why).

Johnson(2002) envisioned tracking as the way to make education efficient and effective for all students, while recognising individual differences. Gamoran (1998) criticises tracking as it creates a status hierarchy in the school system. Unequal distribution of instruction across the hierarchy of tracks leads to achievement inequality. Having some students labelled as less competent than others can reinforce the view that some people are less smart and less worthy of education than others. This could reproduce inequities outside the classroom. (In Katie Johnson article).

One of the main arguments advanced by Hollifield (1987) against ability grouping is that the practice creates classes or groups of low achievers who are deprived of the example and stimulation provided by high achievers. He further argued that labelling students according to ability and assigning them to low-achievement groups may also communicate self-fulfilling low expectations. Further, groups with low performance often receive a lower quality of instruction than other groups. Slavin sees the most compelling argument against ability grouping is its creation of academic elites, a practice going against democratic ideals. In the context of GCS, in adopting ability grouping with MAP, the essence behind is to create academics. (Eric John Hollifield) Mauritius has an acute competitive educational system where high academic achievement is the limelight in the life of the students. The latter are brainwashed into believing that academic achievement is the be all and end all of their life.

Overall, ok but need more relation to the context and need for organisation of te material

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