A Research Synthesis of Ability Grouping for Elementary Reading Instruction

Thacker-Gwaltney, Susan, Education - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Abouzeid, Mary, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

The use of ability-based homogeneous groups for reading instruction in the elementary classroom is a widespread practice in U.S. schools (Chorzempa & Graham, 2006). This study describes a research synthesis (Shanahan, 2001) examining the use of ability grouping for reading instruction in K-5 classrooms from 1987-present. Previous reviews (Barr & Dreeben, 1996; Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes & Moody, 1999; Kulik and Kulik 1987,1992; Lou et al.1996; Lou, Abrami & Spence, 2000; Slavin, 1987) are over 15 years old and focused on within-class ability grouping. Despite the robust special education literature advocating the importance of small-group intervention (Elbaum et al., 1999), small-group instruction in the general classroom has received less scrutiny (Barr & Dreeben, 1996). The current study is a research synthesis that examines studies of comparisons between within-class and between-class ability grouping, i.e., flexible cross-grade grouping within the general education K-5 classroom. I analyzed current support for popular organizational formats used during small-group instruction, e.g., guided reading, Daily Five, PALS electronic plans, differentiated instruction, etc. The findings provide guidance for future research on small-group reading instruction and for elementary administrators and teachers who employ small-group reading instruction.

PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
research synthesis, ability grouping, elementary reading instruction, within-class grouping, between-class grouping
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