Active learning in schools among students can be achieved through the implementation of a diversity of strategies. To some instructors, active learning is best achieved when learners are put in similar environments with similar learning facilities. In such situations, teachers attest that learning occurs consistently and a student has the opportunity to learn from others. However, to critics of this view, the grouping of learners based on their abilities is an effective strategy for adequate learning among students. By grouping learners according to their skills, there is a profound success that learners gain concerning improvement in various specifications.
Policy makers have been sound in research to determine the effectiveness of the latter approach in improving the attainment of learning outcomes. Therefore, in this article, an assessment of the learning environment and the determinants of student achievement will be undertaken with emphasis on best mechanisms for effective learning. Moreover, in-depth analysis is being conducted on the soundness of learner grouping based on abilities and its shortcomings. Generally, learner grouping based on individual skills is at the core of educational attainment.
An ideal learning environment is one that stresses student’s learning achievement and collaborative processes in the classroom. Parents, teachers, and learners have the immense responsibility to ensure that an environment that aims at the achievement of long and short-term educational goals is created. Therefore, based on considerations of most researchers, an ideal learning environment is one that promotes safety, collaboration, relevance, and creativity. Research by Chen, Liu, and Shou perceives a perfect learning environment in the context of promoting cooperation using game-based play. The researchers attest that educational games encourage competition among learners, which in turn, fosters positive learning and ability comparison. Game-based play allows for competition among students’ which translates to the improvement in knowledge to produce higher progress in the learning activities. Based on the advancement in technology in modern learning institutions, lento (2018) asserts that an ideal learning environment should be one that integrates technology in the classroom and uses that technology as an additional instructional method. Lento perceives a technology-based class and learning environment as an avenue where learners interact with their colleagues online, communicate with their instructors online without the necessity of face to face communication, conduct personal online research, among other benefits associated with this development.
Contrary to these observations, another research by Akindayomi contends that performance and practical assessment of learner achievement and outcomes are based on the ability of instructors and institutions to apply student grouping strategies.
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According to the research, a grouping strategy known as the customized assessment group initiative (CAGI) is proposed which enhances collaborative learning and teamwork not only among learners but also in an organizational context. Akindayomi believes that active learning and an ideal learning environment should emphasize the importance of grouping which is central in the attainment of learning outcomes. Based on Akindayomi’s affirmations, there is a need to conduct intensive research on the importance of students grouping, based on learner abilities, in the achievement of learning outcomes. However, before ascertaining its usefulness and limitations in student performance, there is also a requirement to underscore the determinists of students’ performance and grouping. Students grouping is today a vital element among policymakers, institutions, and instructors based on its essentiality and applicability in the learning environment.
Determinants of Student’s Learning
Affirmatively, the belief that a good fit between the curriculum and student ability is critical for learning because it enhances the understanding of how students learn. Most educational literature identifies several factors that promote learning with some of these factors including but are not limited to the quality of instruction, social-psychological processes governing student motivation and efforts, and the academic climate of the learning environment. Regarding the quality of teaching, several conceptual models explain why increasing the quantity and quality of teaching in the classroom increases student learning outcomes. For example, Bellibas, Emine, and Mark attest that the instructional method and quantity of instructional methods employed by the teachers directly affect student learning. In this regard, teachers are a vital school element for student learning because their teaching performance in the classroom can determine how much a student will learn.
On the same note, teachers preferring the use of diverse instructional methods, such as grouping in increasing the outcome in specific topics improves their teaching skills which in turn improve learner performance. According to these arguments, high-quality instruction enables students’ to perform better and understand what is being taught and increases the likelihood that a student will retain the learning materials. Optimal learning occurs when schools provide the best instructional mechanisms and adequate time for students to learn. Student motivation is another aspect that affects students’ performance and attainment of learning outcomes. Most conceptual models of learning identify student motivation as a major determinant of learning. Such models posit that motivation increases student’s effort to learn because increased effort raises academic achievement. According to this line of arguments intrinsic and extrinsic motivators influence learner behaviour. On the one hand, students are extrinsically motivated when they receive the approval of teachers, the affirmation of parents, the esteem of friends, the satisfaction of receiving good grades, or the recognition of external rewards and honors.
On the other hand, students are intrinsically motivated when they study to increase self-confidence in their abilities, to build self-esteem, or to avoid the embarrassment of failure. Increasing extrinsic and intrinsic rewards increases student achievement. Therefore, student performance concerning motivation lies in the practical application of intrinsic and extrinsic rewards by the teachers and learners, which in turn fosters a learner’s self-esteem. School climate also forms an integral part of academic performance and active learning. As mentioned in the sections above, an ideal school environment that inculcates the best atmosphere motivates the complete attainment of learning outcomes. In schools where educators stress the importance of academic success and reward student achievements, students develop positive attitudes towards learning. Such reactions include paying attention in class, participation in class assignments, completing homework, and attainment of good grades. Based on these strategies, teachers decide whether to decide on the grouping strategy based on the expected outcomes. Therefore, the primary motive in the application of grouping in the classroom as a mechanism for instruction and learning lies in its ability to influence positive learning in the classroom.
Ability grouping in the classroom context is one of the most controversial forms of education among students. In most cases, ability grouping can be undertaken within the classroom or outside the classroom. Many believe that rather than maintaining heterogeneous classrooms, homogenous classes created based on aptitude would be more effective and worthwhile. Other educational experts believe that such a mechanism may generate a feeling of inferiority among students who are not placed within the smarter classrooms which results in depression, lack of concentration, and other destructive symptoms. Thus, discussing the effectiveness of ability grouping in improving learner performance requires an intensive study on the advantages and disadvantages.
Ability Grouping and Pace of Learning
Firstly, most researchers argue that ability grouping increases learning pace based on individual differences. Differences among learners is a common problem and a vital aspect that affects learning outcomes. Concerning ability grouping, teachers often group their learners based on the differences they exhibit on their learning abilities in different subjects. Tsai, Chin-Chung, and Gwo-Haur Hwang affirm that the difference in cognitive skills such as comprehension, application, synthesis, and knowledge possessed by a learner affects the teacher’s ability to group learners. Teachers undertake an intensive assessment of the learning environment and the scores of different students in various learning platforms which offers a guide into grouping mechanisms. Kubat adds that individual differences among learners rely on educational variables such as physical characteristics, intelligence, perception, gender, ability, and learning styles. In the process of learning-teaching aspects, it is necessary for instructors to plan their teaching lessons by considering these individual differences.
Besides, while grouping learners in the classroom, individual differences among the students to be considered. Grouping using this perspective emphasizes on the learning styles, and speed of the learners, rather than depending on the collective instruction, which in turn leads to a more efficient learning environment. Therefore, these observations ascertain that an effective grouping method should emphasize the learning and individual differences among learners. To test the effectiveness of this approach in enhancing learning performance based on a research on the impact of student grouping by attainment on the academic and personal outcomes of students in England, Tereshchenko et al. The practice of grouping students using the subject-by-subject strategy which is known as the setting in the United Kingdom, is theoretically a more flexible form of grouping than streaming or tracking systems that involve assigning students to fixed classes based on their presumed ability, achievement levels, or career aspirations. Generally, grouping students by their levels of attainment on the academic and personal outcomes produce positive benefits for students assigned to high groups.
Grouping and Increased Individual Attention
Secondly, another area of research for active learning in the classroom focuses on the ability of the instructor to ensure sufficient individual attention and assessment of learners. Based on the different skills and differences in a class, it is the responsibility of instructions to ensure that every individual in his or her class captures class concepts and participates in the same achievement of educational objectives for particular periods. In this regard, instructors design mechanisms that integrate individual learning, which must also be based on abilities, and the expected outcomes measured concerning the achievement of educational outcomes. Providing personalized attention in a heterogeneous classroom proves difficult because teachers have no choice but to offer equal care to learners. In such a circumstance, teachers are restricted to meeting learning objectives and meeting learning outcomes through the universal training of learners and completion of lesson content without the particular emphasis on the individual differences based on abilities of learners. Most researchers have expressed their concerns over the ineffectiveness of this approach.
For example, Aluvalu, Vivek and Md. Asif posit that classrooms in educational institutions consist of students with varying learning abilities. Faculty delivering a lecture in a uniform pitch in such class will fail to teach and reach the learning levels of heterogeneous student groups. The research contends that a faculty that follows traditional teaching techniques fails to optimize classroom audibility levels and student learning outcomes in the classroom. In the same vein, Zamarro, John, Juan, and Jennifer attest that heterogeneous teaching which fails to consider critical educational aspects such as socioeconomic disadvantages in the presence of classroom compositions effects results in low learner outcome achievement. In this regard, heterogeneous teaching fails to meet educational demands and teaching and learning goals. These studies suggest that a heterogeneous learning strategy is ineffective in the achievement of the individual goals of learners. Therefore, a more appropriate and outstanding approach to the success of personal success and extensive participation in classroom activities is the use of grouping based on the ability to teach and assess learner attainment of outcomes.
Based on this approach, which is seen in the context of a homogenous classroom, teachers can concentrate on teaching the students a particular group with a desirable pace. The grouping also allows the teacher to focus on the learning deficiencies of individual learners in different groups with a similar application of different learning methods in the attainment of learning objectives. To confirm this fact, Lama, Jyoti, Binod, and Pranoti suggest that adoptive teaching and learning strategies form an area of importance as it redresses academic integration. Teachers in medical schools ensure active learning through progress, retention, and application of class concepts, which is possible through the formation of small and large student groups. In these groups, teachers ensure an interactive approach to learning and pay individual attention to student demands and learning deficiencies. Small group teaching sessions are highly interactive and enable further discussions on complex topics.
Grouping and Boosting of Student Confidence
Other researchers argue that the application of homogenous learning through the formation of groups based on the academic achievement of learners improves individual determination and self-confidence concerning attainment of educational objectives. Grouping, which is a strategy for cooperative learning, allows learners to employ more effort in the improvement of their skills and capabilities. Learners also have the opportunity to learn new skills from their studies and consultations from peers. In this respect, a review by Macgowan and Stephen posit that inclusion of teaching foundation competencies in groups based on the completion of group assignments increases learner confidence while undertaking complex class subjects such as mathematics.
Tuncel adds that there is a correlation between active classroom learning and classroom atmosphere. Caretaking an environment that enables each student to answer questions without hesitation, and express themselves without humiliation is an essential antidote to low self-confidence. Therefore, Tuncel suggests that teachers create social groups in class that foster individual belonging and emphasizes communication among learners. Through this, individual learners feel an optimized sense of self-confidence and self-competence that is directly linked to the viability of the social group he or she belongs to. These affirmations justify the application of grouping as an effective way of improving self-confidence in learners, and subsequently learning outcomes.
In spite of these benefits associated with the grouping of learners according to their abilities, others view such a practice as one that promotes the feeling of segregation and discrimination among learners. In reality, the grouping of learners based on this strategy among young students may prove difficult because in this stage of learning, has the innate ability not to understand things or mechanisms applied by their teachers from an in-depth perspective. Others argue that grouping of learners may be inappropriate in racially-composed schools. For instance, using the research from data collected from an Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Benner and contend that mathematics and reading achievement, mental health, and interpersonal functioning is poorer when children attend segregated schools with a high percentage of racial minority youth. This affirmation suggests that grouping learners based on their ethnical affiliation may discourage the learning and understanding of technical subjects. Similarly, contrary to the PISA recommendations that grouping of learners should focus on the socioeconomic dimensions of individual learners, some teachers may ignore conduction of a background check to identify the contributing factors for underperformance for learners. In such cases, grouping might not be an effective strategy to increase learning outcomes. Given the above attestations on the benefits and demerits of grouping learners based on their abilities, the benefits of this mechanism outweigh the limitations. Thus, grouping can be considered a useful tool in the achievement of learning objectives and goals. Policymakers can rely on this approach to make sound regulations that control learner performance in schools and instructors application of different learning methods in diverse classroom environments.
Greater achievement of learning outcomes requires the application of diverse methods by instructors. Grouping based on learning abilities is one strategy that seems appropriate for the effective management of classroom learning and the achievement of maximum outcomes. When applied, as suggested through various studies, it improves individual learner’s confidence, encourages teamwork, increases particular attention by teachers to students, and improves learning pace. However, some argue that grouping fosters the feeling of self-segregation, and might not be appropriate for the racially diverse classroom. Therefore, as justified in the research, considering the numerous benefits of grouping as a learning strategy, it can be used as an additional approach to increasing the attainment of learning objectives.