Monday, 1 August 2016

Ability Groupings in Youth Sport Instruction - what does research tell us?

Research tells us that grouping learners into ability groupings does not lead to significantly improved achievement. Let me say that again - putting developing skiers into ability groupings does not significantly improve their rate of learning.  I know that this sounds radical - putting the better skiers with other similar ability skiers is supposed to be good for them isn't it, or putting more novice skiers with other novice ability skiers is supposed to help them isnt it?

John Hattie is an educational researcher from New Zealand, and his Visible Learning research included over 900 meta-analysis studies looking at the impact of various influences on learning.  Ability groupings is one such influence.  It is commonly understood that ability groupings are an effective strategy to improve achievement.  Research tells us something different though.  Hattie's research tells us that ability groupings have an r value of 0.12.  This tells us that there is some positive benefit to this intervention, however it is small relative to dozens of other interventions that we could use to raise the level of achievement of kids as they learn to ski.

Here is why ability groupings don't work:

- ability groupings disrupt the learning community - learners feel some identification with the learning community as a whole
- ability groupings socially ostracize some learneres - kids learn 'I'm in the slow group' and this effects their level of achievement
- ability groupings compromise social skills - all of the sudden kids don't get to socialize with others leading to mini-groups of 'I'm fast' or I'm slow' groups
- ability groupings effect on minority learners is even more pronounced - if you're the only non-norwegian child in the group, and you don't get to be with the others, it has a more pronounced effect because of the already present barriers that may exist.

As coaches of children and youth, we need to be guided by what best practice research tells is best to help kids learn.

Have a great August!

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

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