Programming Strategies for Gifted Students: Ability Grouping

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Gifted education is a concept that has a long history in the United States’ education system. Other nations have adopted this practice. This model of teaching gifted students has undergone a series of changes since its introduction into the education system with different programs being introduced based on the evidence of their effects on learning to the concerned students. A program introduced in the education system brings about several changes whose success is dependent on school leaders, teachers, and curriculum among other things.

A program in this context refers to the services that are provided in learning institutions to address social, emotional, and academic needs in the target student population in the educational setting (Hong, Corter, Hong, & Pelletier, 2012, p. 71). Ability grouping is one of the concepts that have been applied in the education system. Ability grouping has demonstrated a number of challenges and successes in the course of training regular students. This paper proposes the use of ability grouping as a strategy in the training of gifted students in learning institutions. Besides, it looks at the impact that it may have on gifted students and the likely challenges that come with it.

Elements of the Programme in teaching Gifted Children

Ability grouping is the evaluation and sorting of students “into categories to provide differential instructions within or across classrooms” (Worthy, 2010, p. 273). Gifted children attending special classrooms have always had the experience of ability grouping and tracking in the curriculum, with this strategy being aimed at increasing their academic and social performance (Preckel, Götz & Frenzel, 2010). Evidence suggests that the use of ability grouping is valuable for gifted children (Matthews, Ritchotte & McBee, 2013). There is also evidence of improvement in the social relationship for students who get a chance to have the program in their institution. However, ability grouping has not been traditionally applied in the teaching of gifted children. Some of the elements for teaching gifted children using the strategy are detailed below.

The students are first assessed to evaluate their learning preferences. This plan enables instructors and teachers to know those students who are willing to work in groups or those preferring to work alone. The second step involves the development of a position paper on the grouping strategy. The teacher details the measures to be put in place together with how the grouping will be done. The next step is the development of a grouping policy, which should then contain the procedures to be followed in the implementation of the ability grouping strategy (Hornby, Witte & Mitchell, 2011).

The services will then be assessed a number of times to evaluate the best procedure of their implementation and the best ways for the provisions in the policies to be implemented. In this case, the grouping strategy to be used is ability grouping. Students will be grouped based on their abilities. The students will be grouped according to the compatibility of the skills that they are to be taught. For the program to be successful, teachers have a special role to play as they act as the link between the program and the gifted children. Training resources on the program will hence be provided to teachers with the aim of supporting them in implementing the strategy.

The students will be grouped based on their talents, academic gifts, and social skills. A group facilitator will be chosen to monitor the progress of the students. Monitoring of the implementation of the specified policies will be done at this level. The implementation will be constantly reviewed through the evaluation of the progress of students in terms of acquisition of program contents and the skills covered in the program (Catsambis, Buttaro, Mulkey, Steelman & Koch, 2012). Another target for the evaluation is the teachers’ behavior in terms of their interaction with students.

The strategy employed in the ability grouping for gifted children is special classes. The learners will have these special classes grouped according to their abilities, interests, and talents. These classes will then be convened daily to oversee progress in the areas of interest. The classes will be conducted on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, with each session being an hour long. Teachers will have an hour every Monday before the conferences begin for them to plan for the sessions and activities in them, including the provision of feedback on progress. However, teachers can determine the best time to meet based on their schedule in the institution. However, this should be at least once a week.

In these groups, students will further be grouped based on the speed of integrating and learning, their social activities, and their talent. The success of these groups will be gauged through an assessment of students on the particular group’s characteristics and abilities. Successful groups should have their students performing well on the course and group expectations, with a report of improvement in their respective talents and abilities.

Choice of Programme

The use of ability grouping as a program strategy for the teaching of gifted children was chosen for a number of reasons. Evidence suggests that students who are grouped together based on their high ability in class are able to outperform their colleagues who are not grouped in the same order (Worthy, 2010, p. 273). The introduction of special or modified curricular experiences for gifted children is often expensive since it involves the withdrawal of these children from normal social development. The impacts on their performance include poor performance in other areas.

The introduction of ability grouping in classes is also important for the training of gifted children who may not qualify for placement in institutions of gifted learners. Placing these gifted children in these institutions also creates a feeling of preference over the other students (Worthy, 2010, p. 273). On the other hand, ability grouping enables students to interact with their colleagues when the groups are not in progress. This contributes to the development of the social abilities of students. It also creates an opportunity for them to work on the development of their talents at the same time. The program was also selected based on the benefits that it had on students in institutions before its implementation was halted and replaced with the existing programs.

Evidence also shows that when students are grouped based on their abilities, followed by the provision of tailored instructions, they often outperform children who are not grouped but taught in mixed classes (Acee et al., 2010). Enrichment classes provided for gifted children also outperform children in conventional classes by a number of months (Acee et al., 2010). Grouping is also a special form of accelerating classes for students, with children with this experience being known to perform better than their colleagues with the same IQ without accelerated classes (Acee et al., 2010). No negative effect of ability grouping on the self-esteem of the students who participate in it was reported since all these factors were considered when choosing the program.

Impact and Research Findings

Ability grouping has several positive and negative impacts on the learning of gifted children. Based on the past implementation of this program in learning institutions in the past, considerable benefits were demonstrated in the student populations that got a chance to use it. One of the positive effects that ability grouping has had on the gifted children and other students who have had the chance to use it is the evident improvement in learning and classroom achievement (Nomi, 2010, p. 90). Students were able to participate in activities to a greater degree, do more reading and writing, and make better choices in their learning. When applied to gifted children, ability grouping is likely to have similar effects.

Another likely positive impact of ability grouping on gifted children is the improvement in their future decision-making abilities and reaction times. Ability grouping has had the effect of increasing the pace with which students learn and a corresponding increase in the pace of classes (Mulcahy, 2012). In the normal lower levels with which students were familiar, the movement within the local curriculum was slow. The result of this according to Acee and colleagues is the widening of the gap between the gifted children and other children, with this gap affecting the self-esteem of students besides influencing their performance (2010). Ability grouping will offer a solution to this issue by increasing the pace with which the gifted students learn while also ensuring that other students in lower levels are not affected.

Ability grouping is also likely to improve the supervision and assessment of gifted children in their respective groupings. In the ability groups, standards are developed, which the gifted students should be evaluated against without consideration of lower levels (Catsambis & Buttaro, 2012). Therefore, students are objectively graded, with improvement being accurately noted. It is easier to implement change at this particular level as students are grouped according to abilities (Kim, 2012). However, there are a number of challenges in the implementation and running of the program in the institutions with gifted children.

One of the critiques that the program has gotten includes the psychosocial costs, with researchers claiming that it may have detrimental effects on the students in terms of their academic self-concept (Vogl & Preckel, 2014). The students who are grouped according to their abilities may not be equal in abilities, with the development of the big-fish-little-pond effect (BFLPE) (Makel, Lee, Olszewki-Kubilius & Putallaz, 2012). The students who are not as gifted as their colleagues in the group may experience a decrease in their academic self-concept (Preckel, Götz & Frenzel, 2010). Vogl and Preckel have considered academic self-concept a very significant influence on the academic performance of learners (2014, p. 53).


The implementation of the program is likely to face a number of challenges. The most significant of these challenges is the absence of policies in the ability-grouping program. This absence of policies in the institutions where the program is to be implemented may result in a slow implementation process, inadequate means of assessment of the program, and poor outcomes in the end. Therefore, the provision of policies should precede the program implementation. The other challenge that the program is likely to face is the resistance of the implementers and policymakers based on the performance of the policy in previous times (Acee et al., 2010). Before it was removed from the curriculum, the program was noted to have some weaknesses. However, these weaknesses were mainly due to the poor implementation. Therefore, resistance is mainly going to be based on this experience.

Another challenge in the program implementation is the financial and social implications of the change. For implementation, the institutions need to conduct training on the implementation, running, and assessment of the various elements of ability grouping. These changes are expensive. Therefore, the institutions also need to have adequate space and staff to implement (Makel, Lee, Olszewki-Kubilius & Putallaz, 2012). The parents also need to be informed of the program. Some may also express reservations, thus limiting their children’s participation. Preparation should be done to ensure this challenge is eliminated through the conducting of assessment of the attitude of the stakeholders towards ability grouping (Acee et al., 2010).


The implementation of ability grouping as a program in learning institutions is proposed as a beneficial change for gifted children. The program, like many other programs, aims at introducing efficiency in the teaching of gifted children without removal from their institutions. The likely positive effects discussed include improvement in the academic achievements of gifted children, as supported by evidence from previous studies. However, a major challenge is a decrease in academic self-concept for the grouped students. If implemented, the program may have beneficial effects for gifted children. However, policies are required in the institutions to oversee the implementation.

Reference List

Acee, W., Kim, H., Kim, J., Kim, J., Chu, R., Kim, M., & Wicker, W. (2010). Academic boredom in under- and over-challenging situations. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 35(1), 17-27.

Catsambis, S., & Buttaro, R. (2012). Revisiting “Kindergarten as Academic Boot Camp”: A Nationwide Study of Ability Grouping and Psycho-Social Development. Social Psychology of Education: An International Journal, 15(4), 483-515.

Catsambis, S., Buttaro, A., Mulkey, L., Steelman, L., & Koch, P. (2012). Examining Gender Differences in Ability Group Placement at the Onset of Schooling: The Role of Skills, Behaviours, and Teacher Evaluations. The Journal of Educational Research, 105(1), 8–20.

Hong, G., Corter, C., Hong, Y., & Pelletier, J. (2012). Differential Effects of Literacy Instruction Time and Homogeneous Ability Grouping in Kindergarten Classrooms: Who Will Benefit? Who Will Suffer? Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 34(1), 69-88.

Hornby, G., Witte, C., & Mitchell, D. (2011). Policies and Practices of Ability Grouping in New Zealand Intermediate Schools. Support for Learning, 26(3), 92-96.

Kim, Y. (2012). Implementing Ability Grouping in EFL Contexts: Perceptions of Teachers and Students. Language Teaching Research, 16(3), 289-315.

Makel, C., Lee, S., Olszewki-Kubilius, P., & Putallaz, M. (2012). Changing the Pond, Not the Fish: Following High-Ability Students across Different Educational Environments. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104(3), 778-792.

Matthews, S., Ritchotte, A., & McBee, T. (2013). Effects of school wide cluster grouping and within-class ability grouping on elementary school students’ academic achievement growth. High Ability Studies, 24(2), 81-97.

Mulcahy, R. (2012). The effects of experience grouping on achievement, satisfaction, and problem- solving discourse in professional technical training. Educational Technology Research & Development, 60(1), 15-29.

Nomi, T. (2010). The Effects of Within-Class Ability Grouping on Academic Achievement in Early Elementary Years. Journal of Research on Educational Effectiveness, 3(1), 56-92.

Preckel, F., Götz, T., & Frenzel, A. (2010). Ability grouping of gifted students: Effects on academic self-concept and boredom. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(3), 451-472.

Vogl, K., & Preckel, F. (2014). Full-Time Ability Grouping of Gifted Students: Impacts on Social Self-Concept and School-Related Attitudes. Gifted Child Quarterly, 58(1), 51-68.

Worthy, J. (2010). Only the Names Have Been Changed: Ability Grouping Revisited. Urban Review, 42(4), 271-295.

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