The Tutoring Center, Troy MI

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03/28/2017


If you have school-aged children in your family, there’s a strong chance they’re learning at least some of the time in groups, or what educators often refer to as ability-based learning.

But does this long debated approach actually foster learning? According to a recent study by Northwestern University, it proves advantageous for at least gifted students.

If you’ve ever heard or even taken an honors or Advanced Placement (AP) class, you have at least a basic understanding of ability-based learning: placing students of similar ability in different groups (called within-class grouping) or classes (called between-class grouping) based on academic achievement.

While between-class grouping is available at most high schools, advanced learners of younger ages—and research suggests that as many as 30-40% of elementary and middle school students perform above grade level in math and reading—tend to learn in more differentiated classroom settings that may prove unchallenging.

According to a new study, “What One Hundred Years of Research Says About Ability Grouping and Acceleration for Students K-12” conducted by Northwestern University’s School of Education and Social Policy (Source: Review of Educational Research, December 2016), advanced students perform “significantly better” than their peers when learning via within-class grouping, cross-grade subject grouping, and gifted and talented programs.

Though the study did not specifically address the benefits of ability-based grouping for non-accelerated students, study authors Saiying Steenbergen-Hu, Matthew C. Makel, and  Paula Olszewski-Kubilius contend that “academic acceleration and most forms of ability grouping like cross-grade subject grouping and special grouping for gifted students can greatly improve K-12 students’ academic achievement.”

These findings can shed light for educators and parents alike on best teaching practices for advanced students and making decisions when it comes to methods such as differentiated instruction or whether a child should join a gifted program if offered.

Additionally, parents might even organize study or “play” groups for their academically-advanced children that take the study’s findings into mind and challenge/motivate their children outside of the classroom as well.

On a final note, education should “avoid trying to teach students what they already know,” the study’s authors wrote. Indeed.

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