Publications & Resources

Teachers’ Grouping Practices in Elementary Science Classrooms

Jul 1996

Noreen M. Webb, Gail P. Baxter, and Laurie Thompson

Although small-group learning is an essential part of classroom instruction in nearly all of today’s elementary schools little is known about how teachers actually group students in their classrooms. In the study reported here, multiple observations of 30 fifth-grade teachers in a large urban school district revealed that group compositions for hands-on science instruction varied greatly, both between teachers and within classrooms. Generally, teachers tended to form heterogeneous groups given the composition of their classrooms whereas students tended to form homogeneous groups with respect to gender and ethnicity and to a lesser extent achievement level. However, classroom composition (i.e., percentage minority or low achievers) severely constrained teachers’ grouping options and in many situations teachers formed groups that contradicted recommended practices. Teachers’ stated grouping practices on the basis of student achievement level did not correspond to classroom observations. Further factors not explicitly mentioned by teachers, such as ethnicity, predominated many group compositions. Implications of these findings for practice and further research are discussed.

Webb, N. M., Baxter, G. P., & Thompson, L. (1996). Teachers’ grouping practices in elementary science classrooms (CSE Report 456). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).