How schools can explore different forms of ability grouping

Victor Ochieng'

Schools that access success in KCSE focus on ability grouping as one of the Best Academic Practices. After completion of the syllabus, the academic team can administer a serious exam in the candidate class. Then, cluster candidates based on academic performance. Classes are not fixed like Laws of Medes and Persia. The next serious exams can lead to formation of new classes.

A well-staffed school should even know teachers who can handle different ilk of students based on abilities. For in some sense, a staff or a particular department is like a football team. For the team to score and scoop victory, every team member should know whether s/he is a stupendous striker, middle-field star or deft defender.

Ideally, there are five approaches to ability grouping, which include: General, subject-based, academic villages, parenting groups (family units) and pairing of students.

  1. General Ability Group

In this academic model, the school can come up with classes based on the general academic ability of students in the candidate class. In a class of 150 students, the school can come up with three streams – top 50, middle 50 and bottom 50. Splendid indeed, there are individual differences in learners.

This approach can help the teachers to fatten (push) the head, as they cut (reduce) the size of the tail. Those who have cache of experience in the noble art of dispensing knowledge, know that there is nothing challenging like teaching people with mixed abilities, or even people on extreme ends. That is why we must think about all the abilities. Push top achievers. Assist struggling students.


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In the whole scheme of things, teachers should be careful on how they introduce ability grouping to students so that they do not balkanise the class based on academic potential. If it is not well-thought-out, the bottom class may decide to engage in self-pity and weld themselves together as a camp of cheerful pessimists. They may fail to try, and just cry.

My fellow professional teachers should have a riveting rehash of what they learnt in Sociology of Education. There is a Sociological Theory called Labelling Theory, which cautions tutors against labelling learners as weak or sick. Those who are at home with Self-fulfilling prophesies (Golem, Pygmalion (Rosenthal) and Galatea Effects) are also cognizant of the fact that this has a far-reaching effect on the psyche and psychology of learners.

To veer off a bit, just as a family set up, children are not the same. But they all belong to the same parent or guardian. Like the fingers of a human being, children are different. Therefore, a wise parent employs different parenting skills and styles. Only doltish parents use the same script in the theatre of parenting. Somewhat, you cannot raise the last born the way you brought up the first-born. Change in climes and times, call for change of tact. After all, the sage said, you cannot use old maps to trace new cities.

  1. Subject-Based

In this approach, subject teachers group students according to the performance in their subjects. They should go ahead and organise one-on-one incisive conferencing sessions with each group. The end-in-mind is, the bottom group is able to score above a C- (minus) in their subjects.

  1. Academic Villages

In this case, teachers group students based on their common targets or aspirations. This style can take care of repeaters, prefects, ‘A’ students. Teachers should take care of every village. Push the group to operate at their ultimate best. Some schools have students who are top achievers, who in real sense, can feature in the top 20 or 100 in national ranking. This calibre of candidates should get serious push, and be made to stretch beyond elastic limits. Or else, they can choose to become complacent, settle for less, and be prone to mediocrity: Being on top of the bottom.

  1. Parenting Groups

The school can come up with group discussions, which can also act as family units. All students to be assigned teacher-parents to help them set targets. There should be regular meetings to provide direction, focus, and keep them on the right track. Candidates should not operate on laissez faire. Teachers’ ubiquity and eternal vigilance and constant monitoring is supreme.

  1. Students pairing

One of the stupendous strategies we have been sharing with weak candidates is that they should pair up with top achievers. As the high fliers commit themselves to help the struggling students through peer teaching, they attain marvellous mastery of content. In the long run, this infusion and collation of abilities, legs up the poor performance of average students.

By Victor Ochieng’

The writer rolls out academic talks and training services. 0704420232

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