Is Ability Grouping Within the Middle School Classroom Necessary?

New ideas and tips about ability grouping children for learning activities in middle school.  #teaching  #groupwork

My Deliberate Practice Plan is focused on "Organizing for Learning" and so I have been personally pondering the concept of ability grouping.

I'm not going to try to convince you whether ability grouping is bad or whether it's good - there's loads of research out there that you can read and reflect on.

What I have come to realize is that if the organizing is done appropriately, ability grouping doesn't necessarily have to be a thing I focus on in my middle school class.


It's all about the goals, expectations, and routines.

If your goal is to have students process critical content or practice their learning, then who a student works with may not be as important as what they are working on.

Add in that students are expected to actively participate, listen attentively, and add on to what was said and they will be involved in the learning.

Then, provide a routine to follow for who is to speak first and how one is to listen so there's a structure and you have a recipe for success!

How did this work in my middle school ELA class, you ask?

I tried it just this week with writing essay introductions.  I provided a "micro-text" and then a prompt.  I asked partners to discuss what the first, second and third sentence should be using these posters:

Middle School Classroom Group Work Anchor Charts Create Learning with Accountable Talk.  Perfect Posters for Language Arts or Any Subject Area!  #teaching  #anchorcharts  #groupwork
I made a handy desk reference for these posters that you can get for free
by entering your e-mail at the bottom of this post.

The first time we did this, it was a little new and I'm not so sure I heard students using academic language.  

However, the second time we did this, I explicitly told students I was listening for academic language and so I heard much more.

This taught me that I need to be very specific with what I want to take place during the discussions.

One thing that I will work on next is requiring that there be a written component that shows what each person is adding to the discussion in a larger group of 4 students.

This could be a "placemat" where each group is given a large piece of paper and everyone will write their ideas on their side of the placemat with a final consensus in the middle or it could be as simple as using mini-whiteboards where each individual records their piece.

However, moving forward, I don't think ability grouping has to be a "thing".  Of course, there will be instances where ability grouping is appropriate (like to have two advanced students challenge one another) so I'll never say never but I believe that as long as the routines and structures are in place, students will be able to do more with their learning regardless of their achievement level. 

I think it's all about progress, not perfection.

I made my students a handy desk reference for the expectations and routines that are on the posters above.  I streamlined it with the expectation followed by the routine.  

Discussion Expectations & Routines for Middle School with Sentence Starters!  #teaching #discussions #groupwork

In my class, I copied them onto colored paper and placed them under clear contact paper on the students' desks.  This way they always have the information right where they can see it.  Hopefully, my administrator likes it too!

If you'd like a copy of these handy desk reference cards, join the Teacher Troop and get them as a members-only extra!

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