Streaming in Schools: The Benefits of Grouping Students by Ability

Updated on March 2, 2018
Joyette  Fabien profile image

Joyette taught English & Literature at high school for many years. Her writing and education articles come from her classroom experience.

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Group Students According to Their Abilities

Streaming refers to the grouping of students by ability. Students within a certain ability range are grouped together as a class. The objective is to allow like students to move ahead at a pace that matches their abilities. I am a strong advocate for streaming in high schools. In my experience, the results of streaming are more often beneficial than otherwise.

Within a streamed class setting the teacher is able to set a suitable pace for the class and maintain that pace. There is hardly any risk of leaving anyone behind. The entire class is challenged at a level gauged to be appropriate for the whole group.

The teacher can move ahead at a brisk pace with a group of twenty-five bright students who do not require much supervision and need little or no individual attention. In a class of slow students the same applies; however, a slower pace would be necessary and a more reasonable number to work with would be ten to fifteen if teaching is to be effective. In either situation, the teacher is able to select an appropriate pace and move ahead with it.

The Streamed Classroom

In this type of class setting students are able to

  • Motivate each other because they possess similar abilities.
  • Move ahead at the same pace because there are no major disparities in ability within the stream.
  • Grow in confidence and self esteem since no one is made to feel inferior or stupid among his/her peers. In fact, they offer each other friendly competition which is, in itself, motivational.

The Unstreamed Classroom

This class setting can have serious disadvantages:

  • Gifted students placed in an unstreamed class setting among low ability students, for whom the pace has to be much slower than their own, soon lose interest in what is happening in the classroom and seek alternative means of engaging themselves. They may manifest their loss of interest through disruptive behaviour, careless attitude towards work, or rebelliousness.The fact is that they are grossly under-challenged so they react. They want to move ahead; instead they are forced to stand still or perhaps even regress to match the pace of the less able students in the class who would probably need twice as much time to complete tasks.
  • Lower-ability students are easily demotivated in an unstreamed setting where the pace is set above their level, making their inabilities stand out in stark contrast to those of their peers. They may react in a number of ways such as withdrawal, rebellion, indiscipline and even truancy. Withdrawn students are easily overlooked and often left behind if the teacher is not sensitive and caring. Rebellion and indiscipline obviously cause problems with authority which only exacerbates the situation. Inevitably, these students become drop outs.

In a Streamed Classroom Students Move Together!

In capsule, a streamed class is like a moving train. The conductor is the teacher; the passengers are the students and they are going somewhere together. The unstreamed class is like a group out on a hike. The more fit among the group quickly take the lead only to discover that they must either stop to wait on their lagging companions or go back to meet them. Eventually they may lose enthusiasm for the hike. Likewise, the less able hikers may become frustrated as a result of their inability to keep up with the group and opt out altogether. Undoubtedly, both groups are at a disadvantage in this type of class setting.

Clearly, streaming has many benefits for the gifted as well as the challenged student. Grouped with children of similar abilities, students are able to assist, encourage and motivate each other. They feel a sense of belonging since they are learning in an environment in which they do not feel threatened and are therefore, comfortable.

I am 100% for streaming, what about you?

Do you believe in streaming?

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    • Joyette  Fabien profile imageAUTHOR

      Joyette Fabien 

      2 months ago from Dominica

      What's your point Diego Assis? I choose to look at the benefits

    • Joyette  Fabien profile imageAUTHOR

      Joyette Fabien 

      2 months ago from Dominica

      "I challenge you all to find any research studies that prove that setting or streaming benefits the majority of pupils"

      My article is about the benefits of streaming, as the title indicates. There are many opinions and viewpoints which I do not seek to challenge. I wasn't by any means trying to show that streaming benefits the majority of students. There is nothing that benefits all students in a class!

    • profile image

      Marie Kerr 

      2 months ago

      I challenge you all to find any research studies that prove that setting or streaming benefits the majority of pupils. If you do find something I would be really keen to read it. Everything I have ever come across says that setting/streaming MAY benefit the few pupils in the class who are high achieving but the majority, and especially the 'lower ability' group (and there are so many external factors that lead to people falling into this category), of pupils get no benefit at all from this and in fact are likely to achieve even less. Self fulfilling prophecy and all that.

    • Joyette  Fabien profile imageAUTHOR

      Joyette Fabien 

      3 years ago from Dominica

      You are quite right! There are several different factors which affect student performance and they do not necessarily have to do with grouping in the classroom.

    • Keisha Hunter profile image

      Keisha Hunter 

      3 years ago from Kingston, Jamaica

      I have seen both sides of streaming. While I agree that faster paces children should be streamed together, what i have seen is ignoring of the reason others are slow(er). Not many schools bother to ascertain intellectual disability as opposed to vision problems, behavioural problems and overall lack of interest for whatevwr reason. Likewise, if a child is average and something is causing grades to plummet, this is seldom ever addressed if even noticed at all.

    • Joyette  Fabien profile imageAUTHOR

      Joyette Fabien 

      3 years ago from Dominica

      Onkar, please translate this to English!

    • Joyette  Fabien profile imageAUTHOR

      Joyette Fabien 

      3 years ago from Dominica

      Yes, it works well in most cases.

    • profile image

      arnold chidxva 

      3 years ago

      streaming is good in some sense because infiriority cause drop backs to children with low abilities

    • Joyette  Fabien profile imageAUTHOR

      Joyette Fabien 

      4 years ago from Dominica

      Thanks for the support Renee.

    • profile image

      Renee 

      4 years ago

      I agree with Joyette. Another point to consider is some of these ' low ability student' have behavioural problems as well and I find that when students are not streamed, and the teacher has to pause to check their behavoiur, the gifted ones are disadvantaged because that time could be used for productive learning and teaching . This causes a high level of frustration on the part of my gifted students

    • Joyette  Fabien profile imageAUTHOR

      Joyette Fabien 

      4 years ago from Dominica

      I agree with you totally, mathe masupha

    • profile image

      mathe masupha 

      4 years ago

      Personally i think streaming is more practical as it develops and enhances learning in both bright and slow students. Bright ones feel neglected at the time when more attention is given to slow ones. Similiarly slow ones become frustrated and confused as bright ones sail through leaving them struggling behind

    • profile image

      mathe masupha 

      4 years ago

      Personally i think streaming is more practical as it develops and enhances learning in both bright and slow students. Bright ones feel neglected at the time when more attention is given to slow ones. Similiarly slow ones become frustrated and confused as bright ones sail through leaving them struggling behind

    • Joyette  Fabien profile imageAUTHOR

      Joyette Fabien 

      4 years ago from Dominica

      Thanks for your comment

    • profile image

      vincent taremba 

      4 years ago

      I believe more in mixed ability the benefits of mixed ability outweigh those of streaming.

    • Joyette  Fabien profile imageAUTHOR

      Joyette Fabien 

      5 years ago from Dominica

      Indeed we must - those of us who çare enough.

    • profile image

      dianetrotter@gmail.com 

      5 years ago

      Yep! It's hard but let's do our best.

    • Joyette  Fabien profile imageAUTHOR

      Joyette Fabien 

      5 years ago from Dominica

      Thank you for reading dianetrotter. I guess we teachers just have to do the best we can

    • dianetrotter profile image

      G. Diane Nelson Trotter 

      5 years ago from Fontana

      I agree with you. Administration's excuse for mixes the classes is "differentiated instruction." I think the concept is overused because they don't want to spend time grouping students with similar abilities. I teach music and it is the classic place to dump students regardless of prior knowledge and ability.

    • Joyette  Fabien profile imageAUTHOR

      Joyette Fabien 

      6 years ago from Dominica

      Since the introduction of USE, the trend is SETTING rather than STREAMING. In my opinion, this places the academically gifted students at a disadvantage in the sense that they are severely kept back. The slower ones are not helped either because they become either lost or confused. To me its just a no win situation which encourages mediocrity

    • profile image

      Gloria McLawrence 

      6 years ago from St. Maarten

      I so totally agree with streaming. I practiced that method in my short teaching experiences at both the Primary and Secondary levels and it was like watching a flower unfold into all of its glories petal by petal into a beautiful whole. Talk about no kids left behind. This is definitely the formula!

    • Joyette  Fabien profile imageAUTHOR

      Joyette Fabien 

      6 years ago from Dominica

      Thank you, Rodneyjay.I have been there!

    • Joyette  Fabien profile imageAUTHOR

      Joyette Fabien 

      6 years ago from Dominica

      Thanks for your comments, Rio. This is a widely debated subject. However, in my experience I have achieved better results with streamed classes than with mixed ability classes.

    • profile image

      Rio 

      6 years ago

      Clearly makes an argument in favor of streaming, this article was very informative and answers many questions as to the actual benefits streaming provides

    • profile image

      Rodneyjay 

      7 years ago

      Real professional.

      Well said

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