Issues of heterogeneous grouping for engaged learning

Kam Wing Paul CHAN

Research output: Contribution to conferencePapers


Heterogeneous groups are usually used in cooperative learning to structure positive interdependence among the members for complementing and helping each other's learning. It is not uncommon to find in heterogeneous groups, students of different ability, gender, interests and socio-economic status. Supporters of heterogeneous groups claim that the performance of low ability pupils improves (Webb & Cullian, 1983) because these pupils receive more elaborated explanations from their high ability peers about the learning materials. High ability pupils can also benefit in heterogeneous groups because in the giving of elaborated explanations to the low ability peers, they reorganize and clarify information in different ways, which enhances the development of meta-cognition (Webb, 1992). This paper argues that these benefits will not come about automatically when students are put in heterogeneous groups. Although positive interdependence and individual accountability can motivate group members to interact with each other, diversity in needs and interests may counteract the motivation, affecting the quality and quantity of interaction. Based on a case study of two primary schools, the author found that students encountered many problems in heterogeneous groups such as quarrels, conflicts, frustration and lost of interest in learning. Although quarrels and conflicts could be handled by the students themselves after they had learnt to use social skills to reduce the level of confrontation in their groups, frustration and lost of interest in learning still lingered on. Alternative strategies of grouping students on a friendly or homogeneous basis are suggested. Teachers are drawn to the flaws of cooperative learning and the subsequent importance of team building before cooperative learning is introduced as an instructional practice.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2006


Chan, K. W. (2006, November). Issues of heterogeneous grouping for engaged learning. Paper presented at the Asia-Pacific Educational Research Association (APERA) International Conference 2006: Educational Research, Policy and Practice in an Era of Globalization, The Hong Kong Institute of Education, China.


  • Primary Education
  • Theory and Practice of Teaching and Learning


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