The difference between heterogeneous and homogeneous groups

Grouping in the classroom can be a daunting task for some teachers. They may not be comfortable with classifying their students or managing the time during group activities. Creating groups in the classroom is not an easy task, it takes time, planning and effort to create effective groups. Before a teacher starts planning the groups they have to understand the two types of groups that can be used in the classroom; Heterogeneous and Homogeneous grouping.

imagesHeterogeneous grouping

These  groups are made up of  students at different learning levels. Heterogeneous groups are formed for a number of reasons; to push certain students, promote leaders or to simply have students learn from each other. Either way, there are some benefits to creating mixed groups in the classroom:

  • Struggling students can learn from students who understand the concepts.
  • Students who are working at a proficient or master level have the opportunity to build autonomy.
  • Groups can be engaging as students learn from each other.
  • Proficient or master level students often take on a leadership role.

Here are some disadvantages:

  • Struggling students may not have the opportunity to speak up.
  • Mastery students may begin to feel some resentment towards being in the group.
  • Struggling students may shy away from participating with the group.
  • Struggling students may expect the other students in the group to do all the work.

Homogeneous grouping

Homogeneous groups are the opposite of heterogeneous groups, instead they are made up of students working at the same comprehension level. Everyone in the group is capable of doing the task and mastering the skill at the same level. Some of the benefits for creating homogeneous groups are:

  • It is easier for the teacher to differentiate instruction among groups.
  • Students are collaborating and learning at the same level.
  • Promotes healthy discussion.
  • It is easier for the teacher to plan small group instructions for these type of groups.

Here are some disadvantages:

  • In the higher groups there may be too many chiefs and not enough Indians.
  • Struggling students may need more support from the teacher in order to complete the task.

imagesWhat grouping should you use?

Now that you understand the difference between heterogeneous and homogeneous groups you may be wondering what grouping to use. The answer will depend on the demographics of your classroom, student behaviors and the purpose of the groups.

  • Demographics: An effective teacher knows her students and their capabilities. You would need to look at the ability level of all of your students. You might have a classroom made of the majority of students working at a grade above what you are teaching. In this case you can use homogeneous groups to extend instruction and build autonomy among all your students. On the other hand, you might have a struggling classroom where students aren’t moving as fast as the curriculum suggests. This type of classroom can benefit from more support from the teacher. In this case you can use heterogeneous groups to balance out the ability levels in the classroom. As I stated before, you have to know your classroom and what would work best for your students.
  • Student behaviors: Some of the questions you can ask yourself are: Do my students work well with their peers? Do my students get along? Asking yourself questions such as these will help you determine the type of groups you will form in your classroom. At an early age we have to teach our students how to get along, how to work with others despite how we feel about them. It is important to teach them the importance of working together and treating each other with respect. During group activities student behavior needs to be on task in order for the group to run successfully.  If you are having a difficult time forming some of the groups because of behaviors it might be a good idea to restructure. They could have two groups running independently while the other students are receiving a mini-lesson. Maybe the reality of your classroom is that five groups can’t run at the same time- and that’s ok! Knowing your students and their behaviors will help you determine the best results.
  • Purpose of the groups: The overall goal of the group activities will determine the type of groups you form. If you want students to achieve a level of proficiency in a particular skill then you can form homogeneous groups. Having students working at the same level will help determine what they mastered and may have struggled with. On the other hand the goal may be to promote healthy discussion among students. The teacher might want to have students at different levels share their expertise in a particular area. This will require heterogeneous grouping because the groups will be mixed. Having a clear focus for your groups and the outcome you hope to achieve will make the process of forming groups easier.

Although there are many benefits to heterogeneous and homogeneous groups we have found that both styles have their disadvantages as well. Keep in mind that most of this information is subjective and will depend on your students. No one knows your students best, except for YOU. Therefore, it is important for teachers to make decisions based on what they know about their students, not solely on what someone else suggests.

What type of groups do you use most often in your classroom? Comment below and share your ideas. We would love to hear from you!