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Education strategy paper: Mixed ability grouping


Ability grouping and tracking are educational strategies that have been used in learning institutions for a long time. However, despite their widespread implementation, the strategies have drawn a lot of debate gaining both opponents and proponents in equal measures. Ability grouping is generally implemented in elementary schools, and it involves putting students depending on their ability in reading instruction and tailoring reading instructions according to the ability of each group (Oakes & Guiton, 1995). Tracking, on the other hand, is commonly practiced in middle schools and high schools. It involves using the tracking system to group learners between classes. The learners are then offered courses that reflect differences in their prior learning (Oakes & Guiton, 1995). For example, a learner good at reading may be allowed to pursue an honors English course, while a learner who is not a good reader may be given a reading remedial course. Tracking and ability grouping are not efficient strategies for teaching learners because they do not accomplish anything, and they serve to create unequal opportunities for academic achievement. Instead of using tracking and ability grouping, schools should implement mixed ability grouping as it has more educational benefits for learners.

Why implement mixed ability grouping?

Ability grouping and tracking has been harshly criticized in the education sector due to its inefficiencies in ensuring that learners get quality learning. However, the proponents of ability grouping argue that the strategy creates an environment that allows teachers to challenge high achievers, while at the same time providing remedial learning, review and repetition for low achievers (Loveless, 2002). Proponents of ability grouping have criticized mixed ability grouping claiming that high achievers get bored in such classes because the teachers use average level instructions (Loveless, 2002). The average level instruction not only bore the high achievers, but is also too fast-paced for low achievers. It creates an ineffective educational atmosphere. It should be understood that mixed ability offers more advantages than ability grouping strategies. Ability grouping is a system that gives teachers an opportunity to concentrate on the negative impacts of low achievers hence creating unequal education opportunities. Low achievers, when separated from high achievers, suffer lowered expectations from their instructors. Research studies also indicate that teachers are likely to give lower quality instructions to low achievers as opposed to high achievers (Loveless, 2002). This in turn further increases the gap that exists between the high achievers and low achievers. From research evidence, mixed ability grouping has been shown to have more beneficial consequences in learning than ability grouping. It refers to mixing learners of different abilities in one group. This strategy is utilized where the ages of learners differ with one to two years span. Despite considering the age, the basic criterion that is used is the ability of the students. Mixed ability groups have mature learners and, therefore, have an advanced ability of acquiring knowledge. Implementing this philosophy is not aimed at achieving homogeneity of ability, but increasing the interaction process across students that have different abilities (Wheelock, 1992). The learners benefit from interacting intellectually and socially with other learners of their group, who possess different ability of learning and social behavior.

Plan for implementation of mixed ability grouping

Mixed ability groups are not convenient for every assignment in school. Teachers should, therefore, choose the most appropriate assignment to utilize mixed ability grouping. The first activity in mixed ability grouping involves the teacher setting up the necessary time that will allow for the activity to be carried out effectively. The teacher then sets up the groups by selecting learners of differing ages and grades (an age difference of one or two years). Using the age difference allows the teacher to have an appropriate combination of abilities in the groups. However, the teacher can use other criteria, apart from age, to set up the groups. This will depend on how much the teacher understands the learners. After setting up the groups, the teacher will establish the number of groups that they have, and then give the groups names. The teacher has to list down both the group names and names of their members on a piece of paper. The teacher then develops a working mechanism that is appropriate for the subject being done. The working mechanisms chosen should be appropriate for the groups, and should encourage the groups’ members to participate in activities that promote self and group initiatives, cooperation and improves the collaboration of cognitive and social skills of the learners (The Education Trust, 2004). In working out the activities, the students can shift groups when appropriate. The teacher should develop special learning modules to facilitate parallel group-work with similar modules. For example, the teacher can design role plays or peer supports to be used in the groups. The open learning activities designed should promote imagination, cooperation and initiatives. The activities should also be designed to utilize learning resources in the school, for example, the laboratories, library, ICT or other learning centers. The activities could also be open investigations performed outdoor. The teacher will get most ideas from curriculum references. Lastly, the teacher will describe in general how they worked and the philosophy behind the activities that they designed. The teachers will be analyzing the reaction of the students to the activities and their degree of involvement in assisting the students carry out the activities.
Mixed ability is more favorable compared to ability grouping due to the important skills emphasized and acquired by the learners. All sets of learners benefit in mixed ability activities. The older mature sets of learners develop leadership skills and enhance their self-esteem by mentoring their group mates. Their cognitive skills are also enhanced. The younger learners will feel secure, and will be exposed to activities that require cooperation hence developing the spirit of collaboration and teamwork.

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Loveless, T. (2002). The Tracking and Ability Grouping Debate, Reston, VA: Thomas Fordham Foundation. NASSP. Oakes, J. & Guiton, G. (1995). “Matchmaking: The Dynamics of High School Tracking Decisions.” American Educational Research Journal 32 (1):3-33. Tieso, C. L. (2003). “Ability Grouping is not just Tracking anymore.” Roeper Review 26 (1): 29-36. The Education Trust (2004). “The Real Value of Teachers.” Thinking K-16 8 (1). Winter 2004. Washington, DC: The Education Trust, Inc. Wheelock, A. (1992). “The case for Untracking.” Untracking for Equity 50 (2): 6-10, ASCD.


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