Pros and Cons of Heterogeneous Grouping in Classrooms

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Heterogeneous grouping is a type of distribution of students among various classrooms of a certain grade within a school. In this method, children of approximately the same age are placed in different classrooms in order to create a relatively even distribution of students of different abilities as well as different educational and emotional needs. Gifted children will be scattered throughout the various grade level classrooms, rather than all together in one classroom.

Homogeneous grouping is the placement of students of similar abilities into one classroom. Although there may be a range of abilities in one classroom, it is more limited than the range found in the heterogeneous classroom. All gifted children within the same grade level will be in the same classroom, for instance.

Challenges for Students With Disabilities

For students with disabilities, heterogeneous classrooms can prove highly challenging, as they may not be able to participate in general education programs.

Students with conditions such as autism, attention deficit disorder (ADD), emotional disturbances, severe intellectual disabilities, or other medical conditions, may benefit from the self-contained classroom of homogeneous grouping.

This allows them to learn at their own pace, which may differ greatly from their peers.

Challenges for Gifted Students

Gifted students in heterogeneous classes may not fare as well as their peers. They may feel pressure to be "second teachers," that is, to help students who are not grasping the material as readily. These gifted students may also grow impatient and bored at the pace of a traditional classroom, which can lead to frustration. 

Since the majority of students in a classroom are likely to be average students, heterogenous classrooms tend to be geared toward their learning needs. That means, for example, that even if a gifted child starts kindergarten not knowing how to read, a full week spent on only one letter of the alphabet is unnecessary and frustrating for them. Gifted children need plenty of intellectual stimulation, and if they don't get it from their teachers, they will often provide it for themselves.

Social Dynamic

There are many social benefits to heterogeneous classrooms. One benefit is to ensure students in gifted programs or individual education programs aren't singled out. Students may feel stigmatized socially if they have to go to a "special" class every day and could find themselves the targets of bullies.

Kids who take special education programs may have some problems keeping up in heterogeneous environments, but that should be weighed against the possible stigma they may face if they are grouped in a homogeneous classroom.

Heterogeneous classrooms may help students who have social anxiety or developmental disorders practice social skills.

Impact on Teachers

Heterogeneous classrooms present different challenges and benefits for teachers. For example, a teacher has to try to be sure everyone in a heterogeneous classroom is being challenged and learning the material.

A Word From Verywell

The needs of individual students may not be fully met in a heterogeneous classroom environment, but for average students, it can be helpful to be exposed to students with different learning skills and styles. It's up to parents and educators to decide which type of learning structure works best for each student.

5 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  2. American Psychological Association. Homogeneous group.

  3. Schultz RA. Recognizing the outliers: behaviors and tendencies of the profoundly gifted learner in mixed-ability classrooms. Roeper Rev. 2018;40(3):191-6. doi:10.1080/02783193.2018.1469068

  4. Hartley MT, Bauman S, Nixon CL, Davis S. Comparative study of bullying victimization among students in general and special education. Except Child. 2015;81(2):176-93. doi:10.1177/0014402914551741

  5. Hundert J, Rowe S, Harrison E. The combined effects of social script training and peer buddies on generalized peer interaction of children with ASD in inclusive classrooms. Focus Autism Other Dev Disabil. 2014;29(4):206-215. doi:10.1177/1088357614522288

By Carol Bainbridge
Carol Bainbridge has provided advice to parents of gifted children for decades, and was a member of the Indiana Association for the Gifted.