The Ability Grouping Debate Continues

There are various ways in which the classroom environment can be managed effectively.  When considering how a classroom should be organised and managed it is important to consider both the practical implications for the classroom teacher as well as how it will affect pupils’ learning.   I wish to focus on the ongoing debate around ability grouping within the classroom.

I often find it difficult to explain things without some form of visual aid whether it be simple hand gestures or by using pictures or diagrams.  As a parent of two young children, I am no stranger to computer games, so in this instance I am going to be using The Sims 4 to give an example of how a classroom could be organised.  (Video My Classroom Design )

My Classroom Design 1

I have created  4 groups within the classroom that are in an L shape.  By creating a centre area and ensuring all the pupils are facing inwards, each child can see every other child in the room.  This encourages collaborative learning not just within groups, but within the whole class. Webb (2009) supports the idea that children have a positive learning experience when discussing new concepts as various ideas are discussed, acknowledged and linked so that pupils gain a wider understanding (Webb, 2009, P5). The class teacher has this open space for giving instructions and lessons.  Drawing on my experience within the classroom, it ensures children are included and are not tempted to hide behind each other. Behaviour management becomes much easier as the teacher has a clear view of what everyone is doing and can engage pupils much more easily.

Moyles (1992) discusses the practical benefits of arranging pupils into groups according to ability.  Children may all be learning the same topic but at different levels, requiring the teacher to repeat the required level of support which can be time consuming.  Ability grouping not only allows teachers to teach pupils as a group, making better use of time, the pupils can work together and discuss and share ideas.  By giving the teacher more time, they can explain points in more detail and tailor to different styles of learning (Moyles, 1992, P94).

From my own personal observations during professional practice, ability groups were beneficial to both the children and the class teacher only during specific subjects.  As Moyles (1992) suggests, the class teacher I observed was able to tailor to individual needs much more efficiently during comprehension exercises when reading groups were arranged according to ability.   The class I have designed has a reading corner for group reading.  There may be individuals who need one to one support with reading and there will always be different levels of ability within the classroom.

My Classroom Design 2

The classroom I have designed benefits from a layout that supports  grouping by ability and mixed ability collaborative learning.  There are positives to both sides of the argument and it all really depends on the size and range of abilities within the class and the style of teaching preferred by the teacher.

Webb, N.M. (2009). The teacher’s role in promoting collaborative dialogue in the classroom. British Journal of Educational Psychology, Issue 79, PP. 1- 28.

Moyles, J.R. (1992) Organizing for learning in the primary classroom :a balanced approach to classroom management. Buckingham : Open University Press


8 thoughts on “The Ability Grouping Debate Continues

  1. User deactivated

    What a brilliant idea to use the Sims to create a representation of your classroom! I think the layout that you have chosen is really interesting and like the idea of everyone being able to see everyone else. Would you use the space in the middle for ‘together times’?

    1. Claire-Emma Post author

      Yes, I have written more about my classroom design in a piece of writing I hope to develop over the next few years. The middle would be used for together times with the added option of children being able to sit at their desk if they so wished as I know that some children find sitting in groups on the floor a challenge due to ASN or physical/emotional reasons. If they are seated at their desk they can still see and hear everything that is going on at together time and still contribute if they wish.

  2. Layla Dawson

    I really enjoyed this post. While on work experience last year I visited a number of classrooms and found that the layout of each was almost identical. Children are often placed at square tables which can sometimes lead to them only being able to see each other. On occasions when the teacher was talking or using the interactive whiteboard children had to reposition their seats or strain their necks to see the visual aid or even gain eye-contact with the teacher. I really like your classroom layout and feel that if a children can see who is speaking to them they are more likely to stay focused and not get distracted. Thank you for sharing your references too, hopefully I’ll get a chance to read them before placement as it seems to have taught you lots! 🙂

  3. Zuleka Ismail

    I found this post very interesting as you have been able to back up this up with researchers. I have always though that there is so many benefits to ability grouping and this has increased the options which I have had from before.

    Just to give some constructive feedback, maybe you could have had an argument which opposed the argument to give a slight balance.

    1. Claire-Emma Post author

      I have actually written a piece on this which is quite long so have only included one part of the argument on this post, the other half of the argument will follow in a separate post. Thank you

  4. Rachel Billes

    Hi Claire, I really enjoyed reading this post. I am in the same boat as you when it comes to needing a visual aid for learning. Using the Sims is such a different, creative and great idea! The way you have discussed grouping and classroom organisation is really interesting and has made me think about my stance on this topic. Using the Sims as a building tool is also something that can be used with the children, as it would incorporate elements of design and maths, particularly problem solving.

    More people should think outside the box like this! Well done 🙂

  5. Kirsten Johnson

    This is a great post! With apprehension building within MA1 surrounding placement and how to manage the class’ behavior this post should be read like a key text.
    I have had no experience in planning the structure of a classroom so by reading this post I now believe it is something that I could tackle.
    I loved the way you structured the tables in an L shape! I believe this would not only be beneficial to the teacher in terms of classroom and behavior management but also to the children as it will encourage class discussions and collaborative learning from others.
    I believe that this is a great post and it has gave me, personally, a lot of clarification and guidance in my approach to classroom management. Thank You 🙂

    1. Claire-Emma Post author

      Thank you so much for this feedback! This is just a small post taken from a much larger piece of writing so I am very please that you have taken so much from it. I will continue to share my ideas and thought on classroom organisation and behaviour management now that I know it is benefiting my peers. It is also good to hear other views so again, thank you.


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