Homogeneous Grouping for Different Types of Students

Elementary students paying attention in a classroom

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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.

The term more often refers to students with disabilities rather than students who are gifted or advanced. These groups tend to be implemented for children with disabilities who may not be able to participate in general education programs at all. These can include autism, attention deficit disorder (ADD), emotional disturbances, severe intellectual disabilities, and serious or fragile medical conditions.

For children with behavioral problems or learning disabilities, the goal of a self-contained program is to increase the amount of time students spend in the traditional classroom environment.

The Downside of Homogeneous Grouping

There is much debate about whether homogeneous grouping helps gifted students or puts them at a disadvantage. Often students in such programs, also known as "self-contained classrooms," go to special instruction areas such as art, music, physical education, or humanities. Students may feel stigmatized socially if they have to go to a "special" class every day.

Also troubling is if gifted students come to believe they're somehow superior to their classmates because of the extra attention. It's incumbent upon school districts and instructors to integrate any self-contained programs in a sensitive way, to prevent bullying and other problematic social situations.

Depending on each child's needs and whether the program is implemented part-time or full-day, it can have mixed success rates for students and especially for teachers.

Children who are gifted and have a co-occurring disability such as ADHD may require their own Individual Education Program (IEP). This can mean the teacher has to make sure to meet the requirements of each IEP as well as teach the standard grade-level curriculum.

But for students with severe learning or behavioral problems, the presumably smaller class size may prove beneficial and allow for more one-on-one attention from a teacher. Students who spend only part of their day in a homogeneous classroom may struggle to keep up with the requirements of the standard curriculum.

Gifted Students May Benefit More

Since the majority of students in a classroom are average students, 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. The lessons can become frustrating.

Gifted children need plenty of intellectual stimulation, and if they don't get it from their teachers, they will often provide it for themselves. If lessons become dull, a gifted child's mind will wander to more interesting thoughts. A 2010 study found that gifted children said they had to spend a good deal of time waiting because they already knew the material being covered. Teachers seemed to want all the children to move forward at the same rate, so gifted kids had to wait until the other students caught up.

In a homogenous classroom, gifted students can move through material at a quicker pace to ensure they stay engaged and don't misbehave out of boredom.

3 Sources
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  1. Hunsaker MR. Development, validation, and implementation of a mainstreaming process to transition students from self-contained special education into general education placements. Eur J Spec Ed Res. 2018;3(4):20-82. doi:10.5281/zenodo.1292573

  2. Vogl K, Preckel F. Full-Time Ability Grouping of Gifted Students: Impacts on Social Self-Concept and School-Related Attitudes. Gift Child Q. 2014;58(1):51-68. doi:10.1177/0016986213513795

  3. Peine ME, Coleman LJ. The Phenomenon of Waiting in Class. J Educ Gift. 2010;34(2):220-244.

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.