|The Pros and Cons of Heterogeneous Grouping
A question that frequently arises in our classrooms is whether
to group homogeneously or heterogeneously. My preference has always
been heterogeneously grouped classes in which children receive
reading instruction at their level in some combination of:
- guided reading groups
- individualized reading with one-to-one conferencing
- flexible grouping based on needs or interests
- literature circles.
In these classes, literacy skills and strategies are taught
to the whole class during read aloud and shared reading, as
well as during Writer's Workshop and writing mini-lessons.
My most rewarding teaching experiences occurred when I worked
in a school that used Balanced Literacy in all its classrooms.
The classes were very carefully grouped for heterogeneous instruction.
All of the classes had fairly equal numbers of students with
high, average, and low achievement levels. The classes had equal
numbers of second language learners, learning disabled children
receiving a variety of services, and children with behavior
The success of heterogeneous classes was largely due to the
care that went into making up the classes. Children were very
carefully matched to their teachers' styles. Some children work
better with certain types of teaching and management styles
than others. Heterogeneous grouping allows for the matching
of learning styles to teaching styles. In addition, children
who worked well together could be placed in the same class so
that they could continue to support each other.
Homogeneous grouping often means that one teacher gets an overwhelming
number of children with problems of one kind or another. Even
when children are tracked there can be a range of ability of
two years between the highest and lowest achievers in that class.
A situation can be created that means an unsatisfactory experience
for an entire school year for those unfortunate students and
their teacher. Students who are tracked in this way can end
up having several years of detrimental learning experiences.
One of the arguments for homogeneous instruction is that it
is easier to provide whole class instruction, and that small
groups would be unnecessary if children were grouped homogeneously.
However, in reality, homogeneous classes can be rather heterogeneous.
For example, in a high functioning class of fifth graders you
could have several children reading 3 to 4 years above level
and several reading 1 to 2 years above level. While they may
all be able to read above level, a good number of them would
always be reading way above or way below their ability level.
It becomes very difficult, if not impossible, to provide whole
class instruction which meets individual needs under these circumstances.
Early childhood classes, in particular, require smaller groups.
Young children who are just beginning to learn about print and
reading need more direct, small group instruction in using and
integrating visual, structural, and meaning cueing strategies
when reading. Without this close supervision during guided reading,
many children will fall through the cracks. They will not be
able to become strong, independent readers without ongoing assessment
and guided instruction from text matched to their level.
In Balanced Literacy classrooms, children learn specific reading
strategies as a whole class during read aloud and shared reading.
During this time they learn comprehension skills and engage
in meaningful dialogs about books. Then they practice these
skills and strategies in text that matches their levels either
in small, guided reading groups, literature circles, or independent
reading. The teacher uses guided reading and reading conferences
to assess children, teach to their level and take them a step
beyond to provide an opportunity for growth as readers. Children
also work closely with peers to gain support as learners.
For more information on balanced literacy, you may look at other
articles on this web site which deal with read aloud, shared
and guided reading, and assessment:
I would also recommend The Art of Teaching Reading
by Lucy Calkins (Longman), Guided Reading
by Irene C. Fountas and Gay Su Pinnell (Heinemann) and
On Solid Ground by Sharon Taberski (Heinemann).