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According to Dr. Margaret Mooney, the overall goal of instruction is to develop independent learners who question, consider alternatives, and make informed choices. When students can do these things it will also help to improve student achievement in all content areas. It is essential that educators incorporate small group instruction routinely. Research reported by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) concluded that when students participate in intensive small group instruction, it has significant and lasting effects on student achievement. In an article in the July 2019 ASCD Newsletter, authors Duke and Varlas reported that students in grades Kindergarten through second grade should participate in small group, face-to-face instruction with their teachers no less than two to three times per week. It is crucial, especially during this time in our history, that educators think through the process they will use for small group instruction because the one thing that we can always be sure of is that there will be students who would benefit from this type of instruction.
Additional benefits include:
- Allows for Differentiation: Teachers are able to focus precisely on the needs of individual students, in terms of readiness, style, and interests.
- Encourages Reluctant Learners: Sometimes it helps the students in your group to open up because when they hear other people in the room talking they don’t feel like everyone can hear them.
- Fosters Communication and Collaboration: Creating smaller learning communities helps to ensure that all students participate in the learning process. This will also help to meet some of the social and emotional needs of your students.
- Shifts the focus from the teacher to the learner: As an educator, you will be able to observe the learning that takes place in your classroom and frees up time for you to clear up misconceptions and give feedback.
Suggestion for things to include when conducting small groups:
I. Setting expectations:
A. Protocols/Norms: It takes time to implement small groups appropriately. It will be important to discuss norms/expected behaviors before beginning teacher-led small groups. Without proper protocols such as who should students ask if they need assistance while you are in a teacher-led group, frequent interruptions may prevent you from being able to fully focus on those in your teacher-led group. Make sure that you practice things such as transitions and other protocols prior to holding your first teacher-led small group. Take it slow and keep your routines simple. Trust me. The key is to have procedures and routines that both you and the students can implement with ease.
B. Method of Accountability: Consider having a method of accountability to help students take ownership of their work. Some methods include choice boards, checklists, or an task notebooks where students have directions of each task and are able to keep up with and refer back to the assigned tasks. For younger students, teachers could assign table leaders who check over student work before and direct their groups to the next assignment.
II. Promoting Collaboration
A. While you are working in small groups, encourage students to ask each other questions, peer assess or peer edit assignments. This promotes not only cooperation, but collaboration as well. Working with others is a life skill and all students need practice so they can master it.
A. Data-Driven Groups: Use exit ticket data, a recent quiz, and/or common assessment data to help you determine grouping for small groups
B. Offer Choices: Teach students metacognitive strategies and allow them to determine when they need assistance and invite them to small groups or to meet you via an online platform during predetermined office hours.
C. Teacher Observation: Create small groups in real-time during instruction as you observe students working on a current skill. Keep anecdotal notes and assign students to groups based on this data.
D. Remember that all students could benefit from participating in small group instruction, not just students who are struggling. Small groups can be used to challenge students who have already shown that they are proficient in the current standard.
IV: Empowering Students:
A. Consider having peer-led groups and/or table leaders in all grade levels to assist while you are in small groups. If you choose to incorporate these, be sure to carefully select those who are chosen to lead and be sure that these students are able to handle the responsibliity of assisting others, so that it does not inhibit their ability to complete their own assignments.
B. Students who have successfully mastered a skill could be asked to create tasks and produce things such as videos, tasks, etc for their peers to complete or solve.
C. Lastly, it teaches students to productively struggle and learn to reflect on what they have learned instead of relying solely on the teacher.
Turning Small Groups into Big Wins by N. Duke and L. Vargas: http://www.ascd.org/publications/newsletters/education-update/jul19/vol61/num07/Turn-Small-Reading-Groups-into-Big-Wins.aspx
Literacy Essentials by Grade Levels includes online modules and resources: https://literacyessentials.org/
Room to Discover: https://roomtodiscover.com/small-group-instruction/