This page provides guidance on supporting like-ability interactions for high-ability students.
The importance of like-ability interactions
High-ability students need interactions with peers of a similar or higher ability. These interactions can increase engagement, effort and satisfaction in an activity. High-ability students may have limited access to like-ability or higher-ability peers. It is important that teachers create opportunities for like-ability interactions.
What we know
Research (see the reference list below) shows that:
- access to peers of the same or greater ability is important for all students, but it is especially important for high-ability students
- like-ability interactions can increase learning growth for these students at a higher rate than for their peers
- high-ability students may prefer the company of peers at similar stages of development
- if high-ability students do not have access to similar-ability peers, behaviour and emotional problems may occur
- high-ability students may hide their capacity to be accepted by their classmates if they don't have some opportunities to work with like-ability peers. This is known as masking.
From theory to practice
Teachers should be careful when grouping students. 'Streaming' by ability has long been considered a controversial practice in schools. Ability grouping may impact students' self-esteem or create a 'self-fulfilling prophecy'. Students in a low group may only achieve to a low level if this is the perceived expectation. Students in high-ability groups may feel pressure to perform. They may also struggle with the advanced pace of the curriculum.
Student groupings should be flexible and adaptable. Student grouping is often used as part of differentiated teaching.
Groups are not fixed or based on ability level. Instead, groups are used to support the individual needs of students. For example, a student may show advanced ability in Algebra. They may benefit from being grouped with others of similar Algebra ability. But that same student may struggle with Chance and Data. This student will need differentiated work and like-ability interactions when learning Algebra (to a higher level). Yet they may not need this in Chance and Data.
Flexible groupings allow for students to move between groups. This means students are not placed into static groups based on subject areas for long periods of time.
Strategies and tools
There are a range of strategies that teachers can use to encourage like-ability interactions. These include:
- grouping students of similar ability or achievement levels within classes
- allowing high-ability students to interact with other like-ability peers from other classes
- providing opportunities for high-ability students to interact at lunchtime or after school. For example, a mathematics club
- allowing high-ability students to visit other year levels for certain topics or assignments
- arranging face-to-face or online interactions with other high-ability students from other schools
- promoting external events where students can meet like-ability students from other schools. For example, Tournament of Minds or debating competitions
- flexible grouping.
Here are some tips for implementing flexible groupings.
- Use learning intentions to make decisions about groupings. This means the teacher needs to have a good understanding about each student. They need to know what a student knows, understands, and can do in relation to the lesson outcomes.
- Use data from several sources to make grouping decisions. For example:
- ongoing formative assessment
- standardised assessment
- teacher observations.
- Provide opportunities for students to be grouped based on interests.
- Check how previous groupings went when making grouping decisions.
- Provide explicit teaching on how to work as a member of a group.
- Ask students to reflect on their role as a group member.
Focus questions for professional learning
- Why are like-ability interactions important?
- How can you further support like-ability interactions?
- How can you use real world projects to support like-ability interactions in your classroom?
Boaler, J, Wiliam, D, & Brown, M. (2000). Students' experiences of ability grouping: Disaffection, polarisation and the construction of failure. British Educational Research Journal, 26 (5), 631–649.
Clarke, D. (2003). Challenging and engaging students in worthwhile mathematics in the middle years. Paper presented at the Mathematics Association of Victoria Annual Conference: Making Mathematicians, Melbourne.
Gamoran, A. (2011). Designing Instruction and Grouping Students to Enhance the Learning of All: New Hope or False Promise? In M. T. Hallinan (Ed.), Frontiers in Sociology of Education (pp. 111–126). Dordrecht: Springer Netherlands.
Gross, M. U. (2006). To group or not to group - is THAT the question? In C. Smith (Ed.), Including the gifted and talented: making inclusion work for more gifted and able learners (pp. 119–137). London: Routledge.
Harding, S., Nibali, N., & Graham, L. (2017). Supporting high capacity students in mathematics. Supporting high capacity students Module 3. University of Melbourne.
Rogers, K. B. (1998). Using Current Research to Make 'Good' Decisions About Grouping. NASSP Bulletin, 82(595), 38–46.