I make a point of configuring small groups of students into groups of mixed-abilities. As constructivist approaches to instruction are project-based, each child of differing abilities can lend their individual talents to help the whole succeed. Students benefit from peer-tutoring, on both sides of the relationship.
Encouraged by an advisor, I conducted an informal qualitative experiment. Rather than my customary practice of breaking working-groups up by mixed-ability, I made three groups organized by mathematical ability: High, Middle, and Low. I set the children up with a project: Measure the classroom tables.
I found the group dynamics interesting. The group of “high achieving” students didn’t accomplish much. They spent too much time arguing amongst themselves and in the end, did not come up with a workable strategy for solving the problem. There were too many cooks in the kitchen. The “low achieving” group set to action immediately and with little fuss found a creative (though not accurate) strategy for solving the problem.
Mixing small groups by ability allows each member of the group to lend their individual strengths to the group’s goals. Group members’ short comings are balanced-out. It also can promote a more egalitarian and equitable classroom community, school climate, and global future.