Mixed Ability Grouping

Mixed Ability Grouping
Training Module
 Read
 Write
 Activity
Mixed Ability Grouping
The main purpose of this module is to present you the method of mixed ability
grouping and its educational benefits for students. Initially there is a
theoretical introduction to the subject and a general presentation of the
research evidence of the beneficial consequences of this kind of grouping. At
the “Suggestions for good practice and activities” section you will be asked to
proceed in mixed ability grouping in your classes and discover personally the
promising aspects of it. Finally there are several suggestions for further
investigating mixed ability grouping with selected literature and internet
Theoretical background
As the title clearly indicates, “mixed ability grouping“, refers to grouping
together students of different abilities. Usually this kind of grouping occurs
when the group consists of students with different ages with one or two years
span. The term “mixed aged grouping” or “heterogeneous grouping” is used
for this case but we prefer to use the more general term of “mixed ability
grouping” since the basic criterion for grouping is ability and not necessarily
age. However within the framework of MUSE the actual implementation of
mixed grouping in multigrade classroom is going to be based on mixed age
grouping. In mixed ability groups there are some students that are more
mature and experienced than other ones and thus they have more advanced
ability to acquire knowledge. The main aim of setting up mixed ability groups
is not to produce homogeneity of ability in a group as this is the case in ability
grouping, but to increase interaction across students with different abilities. In
other words the purpose of mixed ability grouping is for children to benefit by
their intellectual and social interaction with other students of their group that
have different social behavior and ability to learn. The former reveals the main
difference of mixed ability grouping with ability grouping. While grouping
children with same ability the goal is to achieve homogeneity of the group and
homogenize instruction for students of the group on basis different of grades
or ages but based on ability.
Age may not be an exclusive criterion for indicating different levels of ability of
children but it is the first factor that you take into account when you set up
mixed ability groups. Putting together students with one or two grades
difference you can make a mixed ability group. It is believed that this
interaction and cooperation of children with different intellectual level and
social behavior, experience and skills can have worth mentioning educational
benefits. Actually this is the case, there are much more research evidence in
favor of mixed age grouping revealing that students have at least the same
quality of education as in the normal grade system. Research is much more
favorable for mixed ability grouping than ability grouping and stress on certain
important skills that acquired or improved in mixed ability groups. In mixed
ability group of students of different grades research indicates the following:
The older, more intellectually and socially matured children benefit:
By helping their group mates since they are becoming their mentors,
they are developing healthy leadership skills and enhancing their self
By improving cognitive skills since they have the chance to consolidate
knowledge by sharing it or instructing their younger group mates.
The younger, less intellectually and socially matured children benefit:
- By being exposed on cooperation activities with more matured students
in a spirit of collaboration and team working
- By being stimulated by students with stronger personalities, better
abilities with wider range of interests
- By belonging to a team where they feel security, trust and well guided
by their group mates.
In general, mixed age grouping contributes a lot to social development of
student members. Research reveals that children are aware with the
differences and the expected behavior associated with their age. Thus,
students in mixed groups have different expectations and play different roles
in the group. Older students, more mature and experienced students realize
that they have a more tutoring and protecting role for their younger group
mates. Usually, these students are more willing to play this role, to act as
mentors for their younger colleagues, than in the case when they have to
cooperate in groups with mates of the same age. When children have to cope
with mates of their age in groups, there are more possibilities of exhibiting
aggressive and competitive behavior than cooperating. On the other have
cooperation and productive interaction is much more likely to exist among
groups of children of different ages.
On cognitive level research indicates that the interaction of children with
different abilities and maturity levels and experiences can in many cases
produce cognitive conflicts and consequently contribute to cognitive
restructuring. Younger mates are inspired by and try to comprehend models of
behavior of their older mates not simply imitate behaviors. At the same time
cognitive development occurs in older students as well since their role as
tutors in the group require deep comprehension of the knowledge they are
about to transfer.
However as always there are not only beneficial outcomes by mixed ability
grouping. Just putting some students together with different abilities doesn’t
mean that one can guarantee satisfactory results on social and cognitive level
for the students. The success of the attempt depends on taking into account
several parameters like the appropriate age difference to have the appropriate
range of abilities, the allocation of time to activities, the modification of the
curriculum and good detailed planning by the teacher. There not enough data
available indicating in detail the educational principles and the implementation
strategies that mixed ability grouping should be governed by. However it is
strongly believed that good planning and monitoring by experienced teachers
could reveal the benefits of the technique easily. Mixed ability grouping is
believed to be a valuable tool for the multigrade teacher. It can provide
solutions for the multigrade teacher and safeguard good levels of quality in
multigrade education. Moreover if the techniques like “peer – tutoring” or the
“activity centers approach” along with utilization of ICT in multigrade
classrooms are combined together with grouping techniques the results can
be even more remarkable.
Suggestions for further study
The Multigrade classroom , A resource for small Rural Schools, Book
5: Instructional Delivery and Grouping, NWREL, pages: 38-44*
Nongraded and Mixed-Age Grouping in Early Childhood Programs,
Katz G. L., ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood
Education Urbana IL., (1992),
Katz G. L., The benefits of Mixed- Age Grouping, ERIC Clearinghouse
on Elementary and Early Childhood Education Urbana IL., (1995),
Reese D., Mixed –Age Grouping: What does the research Say, and
How Can Parents Use This Information?, Parent News Archives, 1998,
Suggestions for good practice and activities
Activity 1
Within the framework of the activity you are going to set up mixed ability
groups of students in a lesson of your choice and involving students from
grades of your choice. You will be asked to design activities and develop
supporting teaching and learning material if necessary for your groups. The
utilization of ICT is strongly encouraged.
Think of the most convenient lesson for you to implement mixed ability
Make any necessary rearrangements of your time schedule in order to be able
to proceed with the activity in the selected subject
Set up mixed ability groups
- You should make mixed ability groups by selecting students of different
age and grades, one or two years age difference provides the
appropriate mixture of abilities for the groups. If you now your students
and their potential well you can set up mixed ability groups with other
criteria than age as well.
available at BSCW space for MUSE
How many mixed ability groups you have?
Write down in a piece of paper in columns the groups and the names of the
students in each group respectively.
Give names to the groups
Write down a general description of the working mechanism of the groups you
have chosen for the subject.
- Try to find out working mechanisms for your groups. You should give
the chance to students of the groups to be involved in activities that
promote cooperation, self and group initiatives and improve
collaborating social and cognitive skills of students. In addition it should
be noted to students that the composition of the groups are not
specified in permanent but students can change groups when it is
Develop special modules and worksheets for each student group and allow
the group to work in parallel with modules of the same kind. Refer to the
appendix below to find detailed TIPS on how to design learning modules and
manage your mixed groups.
- Activities that include games or role plays etc within each group are
usually more than welcome by students. You are advanced to designed
open learning activities that require students’ cooperation, imagination
and initiatives. Use ICT and utilize all possible resources of your school
like libraries, laboratories etc. or other learning centers. You can design
activities where the students are going to be involved in outdoor open
investigative activities as well.
Work with your group on the activities. Utilise the modules you have
developed, the resources you have and the learning centres you have
established in your class
Mixed Group Teaching
TIPS on designing, developing and implementing activities
The following tips represent a summary of an article of Wendy Cranston, Plymouth
University published at BBCi’s webpage. The full text can be found at:
Use ideas from the Curriculum
Use ideas in the Curriculum to help you prepare activities on a theme or topic that
can be used at a variety of levels. This should be something that is familiar to the
whole group. For example, television soaps, advertisements or supermarket
shopping are all good themes.
Curriculum references
Use just two or three curriculum references to summarise the aims for the group in
the session. Take these from the middle level for the group. Stretch the less able
learners. Provide opportunities for the more advanced learners to consolidate their
knowledge and share it with the group. Refer to the Sample Activities listed on the
right-hand pages of the Curriculum.
Include all members of the group in a discussion on the theme early in the session.
Explain what makes a good discussion and point out that listening to others is as
important as contributing views.
Provide a variety of material
Provide students with a variety of material to read on the theme. Ensure that the
material is at an appropriate level for each student. Simplify texts and questions if
Extension activities
Develop extension activities for students who may complete their tasks quickly.
Provide a more complex text or a practice worksheet. Offer the students a choice of
activities if possible.
Teaching strategies
Try and incorporate a range of teaching strategies in order to accommodate all
students' learning styles. For example you could include a tactile activity, an auditory
exercise or a visual game. Through talking to your students find out about their
learning preferences and gear their individual learning to that style of teaching.
Make it fun!
Include a light hearted group activity during the coffee break. Use a quiz or brain
teaser. Encourage the more able students to bring a puzzle or game but always
have a back-up in case they forget. Remember, you should enjoy your session as
much as your students!
And finally
Use the final 5 or 10 minutes of your session to consolidate the group learning. Recap your main aims with additional examples. Find an imaginative way to assess
outcomes for individuals. Write out the question "what do you know/can you do that
you didn't know/couldn't do before today?" and get members of the group to offer
Describe in general the way you decided to work and the philosophy of the
activities you designed.
How did students react with this grouping lesson? What did they feel
about it?
Did you have to provide help to the groups several times or the students
were able to work as groups more independently?
What was the amount of direct teaching that you had to do?
Suggestions for further study
To see how an example of putting these teaching tips into practice you
can read Wendy Cranston’s Advertisements lesson plan outline in the
Lesson plans area of the Tutor centre:
Other input for activities can be found at:
Lessons’ Title:
Other grades Present:
Teaching Chapters of the Curriculum:
Teaching Targets:
Expected Results:
Required Time and Teaching Time table (for all grades):
Required Time: teaching hour/s
Time devoted to the grade/group under main consideration
(in minutes)
Time devoted to other grades/groups present in the
classroom (in minutes)
Required Educational Material (books, notes, worksheets etc.):
Required Equipment (ICT, lab equipment etc.):
Required Software:
Use of Internet and Links:
Description of the subject to be taught:
Prerequisite knowledge of students:
Implementation Scenario:
Steps to teaching of the subject:
Evaluation of students: (1 to 5)
General Feeling of the class
Did any specific problems occur during the lesson?
Would you consider it as successful?
Do you have any definite proposals for the improvement of teaching?
General / Other comments?