Strategic Group Selection

Heterogeneous grouping is great for classroom productivity and culture—provided, of course, it’s well implemented. And successful implementation begins with ensuring all groups reflect the balance in diversity you’re striving for. That’s why you should assign students to groups strategically rather than randomly—and rather than let students choose groups themselves.

Start by identifying the factors for which you want to ensure diversity, then divide students into groups accordingly. If, for example, peer tutoring is a primary function of your groups (as it was for mine), be sure each group has at least one “go-to” person in it, with other students reflecting a range of remediation needs. Other possible factors may include gender, race/ethnicity, behavioral challenges, and attendance (if you teach at a school with high truancy rates, as I did).

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One Response to Strategic Group Selection

  1. Sendhil Revuluri says:

    This is an interesting point, and I definitely spent significant amounts of time intentionally creating pairs and groups in my classes (first with post-its, then with some spreadsheet tools I created).

    However, there is a case to be made for creating random groups just as intentionally, especially in the context of a complex instruction approach. (For more on complex instruction, see http://www.stanford.edu/group/pci or the book “Designing Groupwork” by Elizabeth Cohen.) Intentional heterogenous grouping (just like intentional leveled grouping) can really reinforce toxic status dynamics in your class if you’re not careful about it.

    I guess the most important thing to say about intentional random grouping is to be explicit that this is what you’re doing. You can even do this in front of the students (by putting cards in slots or with popsicle sticks with their names on them). If students don’t know this is what you’re doing, you risk getting the worst of both approaches.

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