Sunday, February 27, 2011

How does ability grouping benefit students in the regular classroom?

The most appropriate words come, in fact, from a student himself: “When Bill (the gifted one) was in class, it was like the sun shining on a bright, clear day. But, when he went out to work with other gifted kids, it was like when the sun goes over the horizon. The rest of us were like the moon and the stars; that’s when we finally got a chance to shine” (Fiedler, 1980, quoted by Rogers, 2002).
In other words, we do not know that of which students are capable if they are never given a chance to show it. Many educators assume average-ability students will reach to match the achievements of their high-ability classmates if they are placed in the same classes, but if they feel constantly and consistently outshone, this strategy may well have a deleterious effect on them instead.

As stated by Feldhusen (1989), "...grouping of gifted and talented students in special classes with a differentiated curriculum, or as a cluster group in a regular heterogeneous classroom (but again with differentiated curriculum and instruction), leads to higher academic achievement and better academic attitudes for the gifted and leads to no decline in achievement or attitudes for the children who remain in the regular heterogeneous classroom".

As I stated in my previous post, "We do not even blink when one group of athletes is placed on the varsity team while others play JV, nor do we think twice about providing special education services to students who struggle due to various disabilities (Pare, 2004). People tend not to see these things as “giving one group an unfair advantage”; JV teams provide places for athletes to hone their skills while still receiving playing time, while those with already-developed and/or extraordinary abilities are not forced to do drills and exercises they do not need. Special education services permit certain students the accommodations they need to learn and grow at an appropriate and reasonable pace, while allowing other students to learn and grow at a more accelerated tempo. Why should appropriately serving gifted students be any different?"

Some argue ability grouping is damaging to the self-esteem of students who are NOT placed in the upper-level groups. There are two problems with this argument; first, there are no studies (to the best of my knowledge) which corroborate this view. Self-esteem is affected by so many factors that it is impossible to attribute it to a single incident or situation (Kulik, 1992; Pare, 2004). In fact, Kulik's (1992) research finds that classroom impacts on self-esteem actually have a leveling effect, and he concludes that "no one program is really any more detrimental than any other program in producing negative self-concepts" (quoted by Pare, 2004).

Second, we tend not to emphasize self-esteem issues when placing children in special education services or separating them into appropriate athletic teams. We do this because we know we're putting them into the programs which will most effectively serve their needs and help them succeed, and we communicate this intent to these children. Again, why should appropriately serving gifted students be any different?

A successful classroom/gifted resource teacher relationship can result in the best outcome possible: flourishing gifted students, as well as typical students who feel heard and valued, are able to step up their creativity, and do not feel outshone in class. If, as Fiedler, Lange and Winebrenner (2002) say, “…one goal of education is to help all students develop a realistic appraisal of their own ability”, classroom and gifted resource teachers must find a way to successfully collaborate.

If it is true that students are entitled to a free and appropriate public education (IDEA), classroom and gifted resource teachers must find a way to successfully collaborate. If it is true that school systems are currently “giving tacit approval to create underachievement in one ability group so that the needs of the other ability groups can be served” (Fiedler, Lange, and Winebrenner, 2002), classroom and gifted resource teachers must find a way to successfully collaborate in order to ensure that this is not the case.

1 comment:

  1. I don't know where I heard this, but back in the 1980's it stuck in my head. One good thing coming out of mixing students of different abilities, and including the academically gifted, is that if the gifted students didn't "mingle" educationally with regular students, the latter would miss hearing some bright ideas. Your opening paragraph brought that up in my memory, but how wise of the child quoted to realize everyone needs a chance to shine. Competing can be energizing, but also inhibiting.



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