Moving Beyond Grouping

Published jun. 12, 2013

In the June 9 article, "Grouping Students by Ability Regains Favor in Classrooms," the New York Times reports that “ability grouping has re-emerged in classrooms all over the country” and cites increases in the percent of teachers grouping students by ability. With over 650 readers chiming in with comments, it is clear that ability grouping is a topic people have strong opinions about.

Teachers interviewed in the article who express a desire to move away from “teaching to the middle” are on the right track in terms of wanting to instruct in a way that recognizes learner difference. But it is a mistake to think that grouping by ability is the only or best way to get there.

The confluence of neuroscience, technology, social science, and on-the-ground best practice in classrooms has fueled a movement toward student-centered approaches to learning, which is evidence-based while supporting the intuitive notion that a learner learns best when the environment is tailored to the learner’s needs. Jobs for the Future, with the support of the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, has embarked on exciting work that concretizes student-centered approaches to learning and provides resources and tools to support educators as they create customized learning environments for students and with students. The Students at the Center initiative page is a free resource to educators, students, and those who are interested in learning more. Tools and resources include case studies; a Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice toolkit and student-centered assessment tools; and a monthly e-newsletter that disseminates a wide range of articles, blog posts, and resources on student-centered learning.

In moving beyond grouping by using student-centered approaches to learning, educators can ensure that students feel empowered by their learning and not defined (and sometimes dismissed) because of their differences.

Clare Bertrand is a senior project manager at Jobs for the Future.

The Students at the Center project also has a book available through Harvard Education Press, Anytime, Anywhere: Student-Centered Learning for Schools and Teachers.

Photograph copyright David Binder, 2008