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Streaming in Schools: The Benefits of Grouping Students by Ability

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?

Comments

Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on August 20, 2020:

Thank you Steven joutib

steven joutib on August 20, 2020:

love this aticle very good use of words in my opinion

Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on January 21, 2020:

Diane, thanks for reading and for sharing your experience!

Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on January 21, 2020:

Gisselle, I am a teacher so I write from that perspective. If you are a student then feel free to share your perspective.

Thanks for reading.

G. Diane Nelson Trotter from Fontana on January 21, 2020:

It bugs me when they make choir the panacea for mainstreaming students. There are students with disabilities that are very talented and fit perfectly in the choral setting.

There are those don't have the social skills or talent or interest in choir. I had one student suddenly jump up, wielding a pencil wildly, because students from her special ed classes were provoking her. The trigger was "Justin Bieber is ugly." Over the 1 1/2 year that she was in my class, she was constantly provoked or provoked her self. It got to the point that the words did not need to be said. Others would smile at her and she would fly into rage.

I was not equipped to deal with this in a class that requires high level social interaction and cooperation. Notice I said she was in my class for 1 1/2 years. I retired because having students dumped on me and being evaluated based on it took a toll on me. One day I was talking to two students. Their eyes got big and their mouths flew open. I looked behind me and was able to duck just in time. She threw a clipboard at the guys and I was in the way.

I had no credential for working with students in special ed classes and trying to meet their needs. Choir classes were capped at 50! Some of these kids were in my 2 to 3 of my classes. No more discussion of my living hell in a "mainstream" environment.

Gisselle on January 21, 2020:

This article is only from the teachers perspective and barely gives insight on how more importantly students are affected

Julie on January 20, 2020:

Thanks for article. You mention you are in support of streaming "in high school." So, do you intend your positive points mentioned above, only to refer to high school students?

Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on January 15, 2020:

Lovemore, thanks for reading.

Maybe you could write about that aspect of streaming.My article does not exhaust all discussion.

Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on January 15, 2020:

Thanks for reading and for your endorsement, Eric.

Eric on January 05, 2020:

I am 100% for streaming in the classroom. This will better enable the teacher to deal with the students in his or her care, without anyone feeling demotivated.

Lovemore on March 09, 2019:

Thanks for such a research, what about its effect on other stakeholders such as parents.

Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on August 20, 2018:

"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!

Marie Kerr on August 20, 2018:

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 Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on May 04, 2015:

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 from Kingston, Jamaica on May 03, 2015:

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 Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on January 09, 2015:

Onkar, please translate this to English!

Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on December 16, 2014:

Yes, it works well in most cases.

arnold chidxva on December 13, 2014:

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

Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on April 03, 2014:

Thanks for the support Renee.

Renee on April 03, 2014:

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 Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on March 18, 2014:

I agree with you totally, mathe masupha

mathe masupha on March 18, 2014:

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

mathe masupha on March 18, 2014:

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 Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on February 20, 2014:

Thanks for your comment

vincent taremba on February 20, 2014:

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

Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on January 04, 2013:

Indeed we must - those of us who çare enough.

dianetrotter@gmail.com on January 03, 2013:

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

Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on January 03, 2013:

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

G. Diane Nelson Trotter from Fontana on January 03, 2013:

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 Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on June 03, 2012:

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

Gloria McLawrence from St. Maarten on June 02, 2012:

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 Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on February 21, 2012:

Thank you, Rodneyjay.I have been there!

Joyette Helen Fabien (author) from Dominica on February 21, 2012:

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.

Rio on February 21, 2012:

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

Rodneyjay on April 03, 2011:

Real professional.

Well said