Arguments for and against Ability Groupings

Individuals learn in different ways. We learn visually, aurally, practically, through repetition and familiarity with a subject. The response we have to the person instructing us also has an effect on our receptivity.  Someone who is patient and can offer different ways of presenting material is more acceptable than someone who merely repeats what they first said, which wasn’t understood. 

Being in a group of people who have similar abilities means you are less likely to feel stupid when you misunderstand or don’t immediately take on board what you have to do. This reduces the pressures you have to perform.  However, a group of people with similar ability has little to challenge them to move up a level while it offers a good foundation for establishing basic material needed for any subject.  Learning involves an element of change and change is invariably challenging.  The sense that you will never get the hang of a subject can block the learning process. 

When a group has mixed ability there are always those who understand quickly. For some this can be a surprise and will challenge them to higher levels of effort in order not to be left behind. For those who have not yet found what they can do, this can be a rewarding experience.  For others who are struggling to keep up, it can be daunting when the same individuals make the connections and can cope.  At the same time, a mixed group can find that those who understood quickly can explain to those who are struggling.  This way the subject is aired and aspects which were not immediately apparent can be discussed. A result can be a raising of standards of understanding, offering a sense of achievement 

It is dangerous to group people in all subjects, in school for instance, together on their ability to do certain subjects well.  While someone may find maths easy, they may struggle with English or languages. Another may find languages easy and maths an enigma. The essence of grouping people in same or mixed ability is to recognize the variety of skills and aptitudes in that group.  As humans we are blessed with enormous variety and trying to make everyone the same looses some valuable skills. We have genetic tendencies to skill in certain areas. A look at some famous families demonstrates this. Acting dynasties obviously have a basic skill and the environment develops this. 

While we all need some basic skills to survive life, individuality means we can branch off in different directions.  For basic learning, having those of similar ability together offers the a chance to learn elemental material.  Those who are more skilled will begin to stand out and it is important that they are stretched to find out what they can learn. They need to be challenged by their peers.