How can we group flexibly and not just by age?

Someone responded thoughtfully to my question about grouping children by age: Is that best educational practice? Here's what she wrote:

"In a perfect world, every child would be taught individually, with a focus on meeting his/her needs in all areas, whether challenge or support is needed. However, school is also a socializing agency, and socialization is an important area of development. Your question brought to mind gifted children being grouped for socialization skills with much younger children, as well as 11 and 12 year old LD children being taught with 5 year old average students and 2-3 year old gifted students.

Although grouping by age is not "best practice," I think we need to take into account how each student learns in each area. A gifted 3rd grader may start out one year at the same level in a subject as the average 8th grader, but the gifted child will likely learn the material more quickly and easily than the average 8th grade student, creating a gap again. Multi-age grouping was a huge trend 20-25 years ago and could be promising in this respect; but even then, we would run into the same issues. Differentiation still needs to occur within any educational setting because no two children -gifted, average, or learning disabled- are the exactly the same.

I'm not sure what the answer is; Research has shown that homogeneous grouping for lower and average abilities is not best practice. However, research has also recommended it for gifted children.

I currently have a classroom of 22 students; I have 2-3 gifted students, as well as 2-3 students who are LD or developmentally delayed. One of the gifted students is at the same social development level as one of the disabled students.Would it be easier for me to teach if all the students were the same? Yes. Would I prefer it that way? No. Part of the joy of teaching, to me, is getting to know each student as an individual; part of the challenge of my job is trying to meet each student's needs.

In answer to your question, age-grouping is not best practice, but which alternative(s) are better?"

Here are my additional thoughts in response:

Thanks for your response, Maria. I appreciate it and I'm sure others will, too. Yes, I taught under similar circumstances at one time. The simplistic answer, sort of a vision of mine, is that we'd have one big interactive campus for any school district's area. All the experts and all the subjects K -12 are being taught there. We set it up so that children get to go to what they are ready to learn is already being taught. There would be people responsible for moving children to the right places at the right times and keeping them safe and on track, as well. We'd have flexible grouping of the same sort for games, sports, arts, lunch time, play ground, and different interests. This would meet the social and emotional skill levels as well as the academic and intellectual levels. We'd have people from the community putting in a certain amount of their time, too, and serving as mentors, tutors, guides, and someone to talk to. *sigh* We can dream, eh? There was a highly gifted program system in the Seattle area at one time that did a lot of this but it was still confined to gifted level children. I agree with you that we need a broader spectrum of learners interacting with one another in natural ways that center around their interests and what needs to get done.