Published: 30-06-2011, 06:20

Homogeneous and heterogeneous groupings - American Education

Two standard, though contrasting, methods of grouping students in courses and classrooms. Homogeneous groupings place students of similar intelligence, abilities and / or academic achievement in the same courses and classrooms. Depending on the number of students, homogeneous groupings might divide students into classes of slow, average and bright learners and even subdivisions thereof, to permit each group to proceed at its own pace. Homogeneous groupings have long been a center of controversy as a “self-fulfilling prophecy” that ensures slow students learning less than their faster counterparts because of reduced teacher demands and expectations.
In contrast, heterogeneous groupings, with students assigned randomly and each class expected to cover the same materials, often raise achievement levels of slower students who strive to compete with higher achievers. The use of heterogeneous groupings has increased substantially since the passage in 1975 of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, mandating the admission into traditional classrooms and “mainstreaming” of a wide variety of intellectually, emotionally and physically handicapped students.
The introduction of cooperative learning techniques in heterogeneously grouped classes has produced astonishing results for both slow and gifted learners. Cooperative learning involves careful grouping of students with complementary strengths and weaknesses into teams, whose student members interact much as they might on an athletic team, helping each other with problems and encouraging each other to learn and succeed. Gifted students often profit more academically by serving as role models for and teaching their slower peers than they do in homogeneous classes where they are simply “average.” Slower students, on the other hand, often respond more positively to instruction from peers speaking in “youth talk” than they do to the more abstract approach of adult teachers. Heterogeneous groupings, however, provide little of the opportunity—or incentive—for gifted students to progress at their own pace and engage in independent learning activities that homogeneous groupings provide. (See also ability grouping; TRACKING.)
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