Flexible Groupings (versus fixed groupings)
Grouping arrangements should be dynamic and fluid, rather than static. The purpose of learning activities that involve grouping and their purposes will be varied and so should the groupings permitted to accomplish them. Students appreciate opportunities to choose the members of their group.
Sometimes students in groups will work collaboratively, generating one product. In other lessons, each member of the group will work independently on her or his assignment. Some groupings will be homogeneous on a particular characteristic (grouping students with others who are similar), others will be heterogeneous. In homogeneous groups, students are intentionally grouped together because they share a characteristic, such as readiness, learning style, multiple intelligences, interest, height, etc. Students in heterogeneous groups are assigned to work together because they differ on a particular characteristic. For example, in Johnson and Johnson’s version of cooperative learning activities, students are heterogeneously grouped on ability according to a formula, one high ability student, two average and one low.
Groupings should approximate real-life situations as much as possible. Students need to learn to work with others with whom they share a great deal, and those with whom they appear to have little in common. Certain types of clustering or teaming strategies are characteristic of certain professions and can be mimicked in the grouping strategies used for classroom activities.
When asked about their preferences for learning in groups, highly able learners indicated they liked working in groups, but not all of the time; doing projects in a group or with a partner when they get to choose their workmates; and learning with workmates who learn as quickly as they do.Research findings suggest high ability learners will often choose to work with each other if the task is difficult.
Tiered assignmentscan be offered to students who have been grouped based on readiness, learning style or interest in the topic. This means having multiple versions of the task that vary in difficulty. Tasks are assigned to groups based on members’ pre-assessed levels of readiness. Tiered instruction does not always involve group interaction (collaboration), but it may.