Homogeneous Groups in Education

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Homogeneous grouping in an educational setting is defined as placing students of similar instructional levels together where they can work on materials best suited to their particular strengths and areas for growth. These ability levels are usually determined by assessment and teacher observation. Homogeneous groups are also known as ability or ability-level groups.

Homogeneous groups are in direct contrast with heterogeneous groups in which students of varying abilities are grouped together, usually randomly. Keep reading to find out how homogeneous groups are used as well as the advantages and disadvantages of this practice.

Examples of Homogenous Groups

Homogeneous groups are common in schools and many teachers use them even without realizing it. Read the following scenarios to understand the role that ability groups play in practice.

Literacy

A teacher designs small-group reading instruction based on the skills that the students in each group are developing. When organizing these homogeneous groups, a teacher puts all "high" students (those with the highest reading levels) together in their own group and meets with them all at the same time to read a more challenging text. She also meets with the "low" students to improve their reading by meeting them at their ability levels and selecting a text that is challenging but not too challenging.

Math

When designing math centers, a teacher collects three sets of materials: one for his lowest group, one for his middle group, and one for his highest group. These groups were determined by the most recent NWEA data sets. In order to ensure that his students' independent practice is appropriate for their skill levels, the handouts and activities he selects are of different levels of difficulty. His lowest group does additional practice with concepts already taught and their work is intended to catch them up and support them if they fall behind so that they are on track with the curriculum.

Note that referring to children as "high" or "low" is not an attribute of equitable teaching and you should never speak about your students in terms of their scores. Use your knowledge of their ability levels to make plans for their academic success only and refrain from disclosing levels and groupings to students, families, and other teachers unless absolutely necessary.

Advantages of Homogenous Groups

Homogeneous groups allow for lesson plans that are tailored to abilities and save teachers time addressing individual needs. When students are grouped by skill, they tend to have similar questions and areas of difficulty that can all be addressed at once.

Students tend to feel comfortable and sufficiently challenged when they work with students that learn at about the same pace as themselves. Homogeneous groups mitigate the issues of students feeling held back from moving on or trailing far behind and struggling to keep up. Ability groups can maximize student achievement when properly executed.

Disadvantages of Homogenous Groups

Despite its advantages, there has been a push to lessen or eliminate the use of homogeneous grouping in schools for a few reasons. One reason is the treatment of students with mental, physical, or emotional needs that are almost always placed in lower groups. Some studies showed that low expectations placed on such groups by teachers were a self-fulfilling prophecy and these students did not end up receiving high-quality instruction.

When poorly implemented, homogeneous groups fail to challenge students because they provide goals that students can too easily meet and do not have to stretch to. Finally, student ability levels vary by subject and many worry that grouping students too rigidly by their skills means that they will not receive appropriate assistance. They might get too much when they understand just fine or not enough when things get tough.