Tracking Ability Grouping

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The Effects Of Tracking/Ability Grouping On All Levels Of Students


The research detailed in this paper provides a systematic description and analysis of classroom grouping practices in primary and secondary schools in England. Practices are compared to main findings in developmental and educational literature with regard to effective contexts for learning and recent ideas about pedagogy. The research is based on an analysis of 4924 pupil groupings from 672 Reception, Year 2 and Year 5 classes in 331 primary schools and 248 Year 7 and Year 10 classes in 47 secondary schools.

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The data came from ‘classroom mapping questionnaires’ that were completed by teachers at a particular point in the school. Completed questionnaires provided information about the nature and use of pupil groupings within their classrooms and focused on the number and size of groupings, type of working interaction between pupils, the presence of adults, grouping composition and the type of task that groupings were engaged with. Results showed that there were changes in grouping practices with pupil age. As pupils increased in age they were increasingly likely to experience whole class ability based sets (tracking) for core curriculum subjects and more formal row/pair seating arrangements.

Chapter One: Introduction

Statement of the Problem All pupils in schools are grouped in some form or another. At a school level, pupils are organised into classrooms on the basis of decisions about age and ability mix (Dean, 1992; Dreeben, 1984). Classes can be viewed as nested contexts within a school ( Bronfenbrenner, 1979) and within classrooms there are further nested contexts. Within the classroom the teacher is responsible for making decisions regarding these units or nested contexts for instruction and learning, that is, the unit to which learning tasks and working interactions are co-ordinated. This unit we have termed the ‘grouping’ and it can consist of anything from a single pupil to a whole class of pupils. There are many possible grouping contexts and each has different implications for pupils’ learning. Groupings can be of different sizes and compositions, and can vary in the amount of adult support they receive, the curricula and tasks they are given and the degree and quality of interaction between pupils. Decisions on the groupings to use for particular learning purposes should be partly dependent on the pupils themselves. The way children respond to the grouping contexts the teacher sets up and the interactive and learning benefits pupils take from them will depend on the skills and knowledge that they bring to these contexts. Of course, these skills and understandings will vary not only between pupils but also over time within pupils. During the 12 years that children spend in US schools, between the ages of 4 and 16, large and dramatic developments are apparent in children’s social,

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