What are the instances in a day where you might need to use small group instruction?
For me, there are two different key areas where I will have small group instruction.
The first is with language and small group instruction with both reading and writing groups.
The other area that is a focus in my classroom with small group instruction is guided math.
So with all of this small group learning happening what does the planning look like?
Step One: Group Your Students
Step one is planning out your groups. There are many ways to group your student and we discussed these in a previous blog post here.
Once your students are grouped you can begin to plan lessons that meet their needs.
Step Two: Make a Plan
Choose what expectations you are covering in a week. In a traditional classroom, you might plan a different lesson for each day. In this you will plan a traditional lesson for the whole group and then follow up lessons will be within small group instruction. So for the remainder of the week, you will plan a lesson for each group to be delivered to the needs of that group.
In a guided reading setting this might look like you doing some pre-teaching the week before then instructing students to provide them with additional practice of this skill.
In writing, perhaps you have a group of students that need additional reminders of how to write within a specific form or genre. A small group opportunity to review these skills may help students to move past an area that they are stuck.
In math, you may teach the whole group a concept with modelled and shared learning and then through small groups reinforce, reteach or extend the learning for these students.
For this plan you may want to stream your lessons providing more support and reteaching for those that need it and provide extensions to those who need it too.
Step 3: Plan Independent Practice
if you are working with a small group then the rest of your students will need to be working on independent practice. Independent practice must be easy enough for students to complete but rigorous enough that they are actually learning and practicing skills.
For language, these activities can be together as students and respond to reading and craft a draft of writing that can be assessed as independent writing.
For math, there are opportunities for students to work through a variety of expectations that also highlight different process expectations. A variety of activities can include hands-on learning, application of skills, and key knowledge and understanding practice.
Step 4: Implement
Now that you have your lessons planned. Make a rotation for students to complete the independent practice while also providing opportunities to meet with you.
You may want to ensure that your group that needs the most support is provided with the most of your time while the group of students that do not need your help as much get less support.
Sometimes this means I meet with my ‘high’ group first and then let them go off and explore concepts. While with my lower group I may meet with them more often or even daily throughout the week.
Step 5: Assessment
Since you planned at the beginning what expectations (or cluster of expectations) you were looking to cover with your weekly lessons you can assess students on their mastery skills on this topic.
The method of note-taking or data collection will be whatever works for you as a teacher. Here are some of my own favourite ways to collect data.
- Class list – Using colour coding or a numerical code I will write the expectation or cluster of expectations at the top of the page and then as I meet with students I will make notes of what level or skill they demonstrated with me during guided reading.
- Tech – There are many apps that let you take notes and anecdotal notes on student performance. Apps like markbook, or Idocieo are all great options to record assessments of your students.
- A class list with open boxes that allow me to write a quick note about each student and how they are doing.
- A group book: if you are meeting with specific student groups you can have a different notebook or page for each member of the group and simply take notes based on just the lesson and students from that group.
At the end of the day, small group instruction does involve a bit more planning and organization at the beginning of the week. However, this is generally at the beginning of the week. This growing pain is also reduced the more you do this. With more practice, it becomes easier.
As teachers, we spend so much time establishing rules and routines in our classroom. We practice and rehearse how to complete work and move around our classroom.
At some point, it is time to move on and begin our guided instruction.
Guided instruction is an effective tool to provide concentrated support to students that target an area of need. It allows teachers to be more responsive to students and learn more about the strengths and needs of our students.
During guided instruction, the students are beginning to do things independent with less teacher assistance. It is a great opportunity to collect formative assessment data and inform instruction.
With all that said, how do we group students in meaningful ways so that we can deliver this targeted instruction?
One of my concerns has always been that as a teacher the traditional way of grouping students goes back to basal readers. Reading books that were colour coded and referenced birds. These books helped to determine your identity as a student. You were either smart or dumb based on what level book you were reading.
Or alternatively the only students that sat at the guided reading table were those that needed help. The stigma attached to getting this help was quite negative and prevented those that needed help with actually asking for it out of fear of the stigma and reaction of their peer group.
So then how do we combat this in a modern classroom?
We know that guided instruction is effective but that only happens if students actually participate and engage with the learning that happens within this small group.
So the question that remains is how do we group our students effectively so that we reduce the negative feelings associated with coming to our guided reading table.
Here are some of the many ways you can group students for guided instruction across curriculum strands.
The first task before grouping students is to understand the factors we may consider in grouping students together.
Collecting data is an essential way to ensure that your groupings are effective. Ask yourself the following questions to determine how the students should be grouped.
- What is their level of academic proficiency?
- What are their interests, strengths and needs related to this topic?
- What are their learning needs that may impact groupings?
- What are their attitudes and experiences about working with small groups?
- How can personalities be combined across groups?
- Why am I grouping them? What is the learning goal(s)?
It is important to use a variety of data including standardized assessment tools, previous assessments. Your own professional judgement is also a key factor here too.
Once you have your data your next step is to plot this out for each student. Grab an index card for each student and write out this information about each student. Include assessment data, notes on preferences. Using cards will allow you to lay them out and adjust the groupings as necessary.
Once you have your cards completed decide on the factor you want to prioritize for your groups. For example, you could group writing groups based on interest, strength and needs of the writer. In this situation, you may want to pair students up with peers that have complementary skills.
Groupings: Academic Skill
This is one way you can choose to group students. For example, you could group all your students based on the grades they received on the last assessment you conducted. If you use a standardized reading assessment then this could be used to determine guided reading groups. All students within in a similar range of reading ability could be grouped together to form one group.
The benefits of this type of group are that you have similar abilities in each group which could help you with pulling and finding resources. Generally, the assumption is that students working at a similar academic level would have the same skill deficits and that this could be addressed specifically with the teacher within this small group.
The downsides to this type of grouping also include the problems associated with the stigma that the lowest readers are in the low group. If you have a group of students here that very clearly tie self-worth to academic performance or overvalue a narrow understanding of what smart means that this type of grouping may be problematic. This is especially the case for those that benefit from small group instruction the most.
Groupings: Interest and Strengths
Another way to group students is to find common ground between students. This involves surveying them and collecting data on a student’s interests and strengths within the topic of study. Contrary to an academic skill which assesses the needs of students. Groupings in this category focus on what the student can do well.
From here you can choose two pathways. First, you can pair students with others that share the same strengths or you can choose to pair complementary strengths. For example, you could pair a student who has a strong voice with writing narrative stories with an analytical student that prefers to write research reports. Allowing these students an opportunity to learn from each other and teach others their strengths.
Overall this is my preferred way to group students.
Who says you actually need a plan to group students.
Why not group your students randomly (then adjust for personality conflicts)
Sometimes students need to work with a variety of individuals and there doesn’t really need to purpose or intention behind their groupings.
There are so many random ways to group students and sometimes the results are great and other times there are opportunities for students to learn to work better together and persevere through group challenges.
There is nothing wrong with grouping our students in ways that consume very little time.
This is often the way people suggest that students be grouped for small group instruction however many skip on the practical ways in which this could happen.
First, flexible groupings are flexible. This means that membership to one group or another is constantly changing. It will change on need, opportunity, and learning goals that the teacher has set out. It’s more like a non-group grouping. It is preferable in theory because the groupings that are made for that short period of time are fluid and based primarily on formative assessment data collection. However, the management of flexible groupings can be a daunting task if as a teacher you crave control and organization with a dash of consistency.
So practically flexible groupings can still be maintained, controlled, and organized if you look at them differently from a schedule of events that happen each day.
In my experience flexible groupings don’t happen on a schedule, in fact, they are often not preplanned with group members.
In a flexible grouping scenario, you have a few choices.
Each week regroup students based on the data you collected from the previous week. Based on the tasks from the previous week you can give students a code: Re-teach, Review, Continue, Jump Ahead (colour codes are better than codes that resemble assessment categories). With this assessment, you can identify what type of lesson each student needs based on the groupings from the previous week.
Another method is to not assign students to a group at all and have the students self identify (with perhaps some help) that they need more assistance. Begin your week with your previous weeks learning goal. Ask students to provide you with a self-assessment on how well they understood this concept. Give students each a card and have them put their name attached to a level. Use a stoplight visual to help students identify this for self-assessment. Depending on each student’s classification (and your own data monitoring students can identify if they need more teaching or can move on) If this type of flexible groupings students will identify their own needs as learners and your small group instruction will be determined primarily with their own self-assessment. In this scenario, students who identified themselves in red will meet first and more often than those who identify as green.
Grouping Multiple Ways
If you are looking for ways to group the same students in multiple ways such as grouping by ability and strenth one effective strategy is to use colours, numbers and letters.
If you have 25 students in your classroom you can put them in three different types of groups
- Academic level
- Mixed Personality
- Interest and Strength Pairing
So to start, choose five colours and randomly assign students to one of these colour groups. Have a look at the results and adjust if there are major issues with personality or ability. Although these are random you don’t want there to be an unfair advantage in one group over another. These random groups should still contain a nice cross-section of ability and mixed ability.
Next group your students by academic ability and assign these students each with a letter. Thow them off a bit by choosing random letters of the alphabet not only A, B, C, D…
Finally, group students based on strength and need making sure that you have paired students with a partner and within a group where there is a friend that has a strength with their area of need. Assign each of these groups with a number.
Now each of your students will have a colour, a letter, and a number.
When using groupings you can simply ask students to get into their _________ group.
This means that you are using flexible groupings across subject strands and these are preplanned ahead of time so that you do not have to constantly group and re=group students.
Which way is best?
There isn’t one way to group students and this list isn’t exhaustive.
Your own assessment of student need and your own needs as a teacher are the best determining factors in deciding how you will group your students into small group learning teams.
Your ability to group your students will be based on your experience and sound professional judgement. When in doubt go with your gut and trust that you have a reason for your decision and that if it doesn’t work out you can always change it.
Good luck with your next groupings.
Want to read more about small group learning in the classroom. Read more here
So I have never been an organized person…like never.
In grade one I wrote an autobiography (with tremendous help from the librarian) titled
‘I Have Nothing To Wear’.
It recounted my morning routine of my parents telling me to get ready and getting frustrated that I wasn’t ready and the title was my excuse while staring at a full closet of clothes.
In high school as part of my student council I had to take a leadership course. Our final project for achieving personal leadership goals was to improve my own organization. It helped but I’m still disorganized.
I now raise my 3 mini me’s … and manage to get us all out of the house in time for school.
Yet my life isn’t a complete mess. At least I don’t think it is.
There are a few strategies that I use to help keep me semi organized and on top of things even if I only pretend to be an organized person.
I felt this was important to share so that if you are a disorganized mess in hiding you can plan around it and learn to compensate for it.
Organize My Environment
I may have less than great time management skills but I can certainly organize my environment. This is one way that I help myself be more organized in other areas.
I colour code my notebooks in my classroom. Language is yellow, math is blue, science is green etc. These also correspond with the colours of the corresponding curriculum documents.
I label things … all the things
This is more to do with knowing that inside my head is disorganized so my life on the outside needs to be more orderly.
I have a home for the extra papers and the clutter. In a classroom you always have extras but where do you store the extras. I have a large bin exclusively for extra papers. All my extra papers go in here.
Set timers…use alarms…
My phone is my life line and one of the most used features on my phone.
Think of tasks that happen each day.
Set a timer for this.
My attendance needs to be done at 9:10. So I have set my ringtone to match this time. My ring tone is Work by Rihanna (except I use the Kids Bob version…it is school after all)
I also use Peanut Butter Jelly Time to signal its time to clean up too. When you train your students to do certain things to music this will help them and you to stay organized
I make lists.
I have talked about this before but this still is a strategy that I find very helpful.
There are many different types of lists you can make. But the thing is…you list needs to be put in a place that you will see it.
I particularly like lists because they help me to prioritize what needs to be done.
By far the easiest way to get things done.
If something becomes part of my routine than I am far more easily to remember it.
First, so I don’t have to remember to change my daily agenda each day, I use a weekly schedule. This is posted all the time.
Next I make the calendar date a job for one of my students. This is then one less thing I need to do in the morning.
I also try to time table my week the same or at least the most consistent as possible. This helps me to establish a routine.
I try to do the same things each day of the week. This way I don’t have to remember it I just do it.
Tech in the Cloud
I take photos of things I need to remember.
I take photos of memos, emails and important dates than I can save them to drop box and easily find them on my phone.
I always have all my documents wherever I need them.
I can use Dropbox and Google drive to remember things for me. Or if I forget at least I know where to find it.
Everything I store on my computer is within those two services. I rarely save anything only on my computer. And if I do because all my products are Apple, I can rely on iCloud as a backup.
Secondly, I have set up google cloud print. This means that I can print to my classroom printer from any device, even my phone. This service allows me to make any printer a wireless printer when it is hooked up to a laptop connected to the internet. It also lets my students print to it from any device that is connected with their google account.
I like to plan.
This goes hand in hand with making lists.
In the moment I may not be organized but one of the ways I manage that fault is to plan for it.
I know day to day I am disorganized but I am also well planned. So this is something that I need to work out for myself to function
I make a plan and plan things down in detail. Then as things are falling apart I get help from other the help me carry out that plan.
You know something that I have noticed is many teachers have a strength in time management and organization.
Maybe this is why I see my own short comings more in this teaching environment. I am a big idea person, a creative, a plan for the future. I am not the detail person in any way.
But also for someone that struggles with knowing the details day to day. I am in an environment surrounded by others who are good at this. So I trade and work as a team.
Knowing my weaknesses and putting them out there has been a good thing for me. It trying to pretend to much that I can do all the things. When you are able to identify your own short comings and tell those around you about it, they rally around you.
This is what teamwork is about.
Have an honest conversation about what you are good at and do more of that. Allow others to do the parts of the job that you don’t do so well. But don’t hide it own it, say it and put it out there.
Age, experience and life so far have taught me that I am not perfect, and not everyone will like me. But putting your true authentic self out there and letting go of the pretending is liberating.
It’s an overwhelming time of the year. Well there really are many overwhelming times in the life of a teacher.
I myself have been searching for strategies to help me manage the overwhelming feelings I get around this time of year.
For me I never realize that I am being impacted until it hits me.
I was driving home to other week from the garden center and I couldn’t catch my breath. It was only shallow breaths that were occurring.
I told my husband and his guess was that I had had a panic attack. I don’t remember this happening before and don’t know for sure if this is what happened but it was enough for me to slow down and really get myself organized and together.
I am fortunate that I do not suffer from debilitating anxiety but as more is added to my own plate managing my mental health has become more of a concern.
When I feel overwhelmed I find there are a few strategies I use to help me manage this anxiety and stress so that I can get done what needs to get done.
I wanted to share this because teacher mental health is important and we need to acknowledge that behind every perfectly posed Instagram or Pinterest post is a teacher that is just as stressed out and overwhelmed as you might feel.
Make a List
When you feel overwhelmed make a list of all of the things you need to do. Brain dump everything you can think of.
Look at your list and number them one to five. One being things most important that you need to do now and 5 being things not so pressing or can be done last. To help prioritize this think about the consequences of what will happen if you don’t do something. This will help you to put things into perspective those are the things that.
From the things that you rate a 1 or 2 decide which one is your frog. Eat your frog first. Get it done and over with.
- Grab a notebook to make your list
- Ask for help
- Rate and colour code your list
- Eat your frog
Stop procrastinating and get started on that list.
Many of us myself included will do just about anything to avoid the thing causing us stress.
Sometimes we just need to get started.
Set a timer for a manageable amount of time and work just for that length of time.
Amy Porterfield calls this Tiger Time. Find a time in your schedule that you can dedicate to to checking things off your to do list.
- Make a Schedule
- Stay Focused
- Avoid distractions
- Set limits
- Reduce Disruptions
Take some time and burn some energy.
Getting physical will burn some much needed energy resources.
This helps me to break my stress loop. I stop thinking about my to do list and can only focus on lifting those 25 pound weights above my head without them crashing into my face.
- Schedule a date at the gym
- Take a walk or run
- Download a video
- Close your rings
They say stress is manufactured.
I hate that it is, but this means that we are in control of how we see the events in our life.
There are definitely stressors. Those are real but how we perceive them will shape how we react to them.
Listen to your voice telling you how you feel and actively change the story and time of your stressed out voice
Think of the size of the problem. Often the problem is not what we can control and we just need to think practically and not make our small problems big problems.
- Gratitude Journal
- Positive affirmations
- Surround your self with positivity
Have Fun / Be Happy
Who or what makes you happy?
Don’t loose sight of this.
Do something everyday that makes you happy. Spend five minutes doing nothing. Meditate, do yoga, hide in your closet, go for a walk or take a bath.
Play with your kids or hang out with your friends and don’t feel guilty for this. Schedule this time for yourself.
- Don’t feel guilty – taking care of you is important
- Do what fills you up
- Use it as a reward
It’s a new year so it’s a new you
You make a personal resolution but do you make a New Years teacher resolution?
What are some of the things you need to change, want to try, or what are you going to do more of.
Today I’ve compiled a list of New Years resolutions for teachers
- Things you can try in your classroom
- Things you can change to get more of a work life balance
- Things you can change to boost engagement and motivation
- Things that you need to stop doing right now.
Try Flexible Seating
I know if you haven’t already heard…flexible seating is this new trend…
But beyond it being a new trend, flexible seating works for me because it encourages movement, variety and comfortable work spaces.
It helps the fidgety student blend in. It helps students to dig in, get comfortable and work. It’s also a great carrot to give and take away when it is not used appropriately.
Flexible seating doesn’t have to be fancy or expensive.
I’m on Facebook often so I will check their marketplace for good deals. I scored my class couch for $20. My ottomans and Muskoka chairs came from Value Village and were recovered with my basic sewing skills. Other yoga mats and floor rugs came from Dollarama.
Try Google Classroom
If you have any tech or students with tech accommodations then google classroom is essential to the management of your digital organization.
I use this to organize and distribute all tech resources for my students simply and easily. It is intuitive and easy to use. Integrates seamlessly with other apps and google products.
With more and more tech coming into the classroom. Management of these devises is essential.
I still have traditional methods to hand things in but this supplements our resources and reduces some of the paper overwhelm that happens in most classrooms.
It also makes taking marking home simple. No huge marking bag. You can mark things on your phone or tablet.
Try Inquiry Everywhere
Inquiry isn’t just for science and social studies. Inquiry based teaching practices work everywhere.
Ask students to solve a real world problem in math and have them figure out what they will need to learn to make it possible.
Try Inquiry in language by giving more voice and choice in what they read, write, spell etc.
Let them write what they choose. Expire the writing forms that they are most interested in.
Try Inquiry in art? Give them a choice on a famous artist and have them explore this and learn more about this. Have them share what they learned by creating an art project that is inspired by the artist to show their style.
Do Less Planning
The person doing most of the talking is the one doing most of the learning
This quote relates well to this point. If you are doing all of the planning without input from your students. They are less engaged in the learning.
Encourage active involvement from your students in their learning.
If your students help to make the decisions about what they will learn, how they will learn, and how they will be assessed this reduces a lot of what you need to do to come up with creative and engaging activities.
The most engaging activities I have done are those that my student come up with themselves. They also don’t often need much in terms of supplies or extensive prep and resources.
Next time you are wondering what final project you will come up with…stop doing it yourself and simply ask your students to be involved in the decision.
Leave Early More Often
Up until this year I rarely left before 4:30. Want to know how much more I got done? Not much.
Three days a week I leave at 3:30-3:45 that is 15 to 30 mins after our end of day bell. Do I get less done?
I get no more done now than when I stayed until 4:30
However I have also come to realize that I waste a lot of time doing things that don’t ‘push the needle’. I would do things that were not essential to the most important things.
So leave earlier
Go to the gym, run an errand, grab coffee date with your friends, be with your own family.
Give Up More ControlHas anyone told you you might be a control freak?
Well then this one might be hard, but worth doing.
We are educating students. Students that want autonomy and choice. Not because they are entitled and privileged (even if many are) it is the world we live in. It is the only world our students know.
We can share our personal stories easily, connect with others, order food from just about anywhere and have all of our questions answered in a millisecond.
Yet when students come to school most of them are passive participants in their own learning.
Because they can’t handle it? Or because teachers are not comfortable with losing control of every little detail.
It takes some getting used to be able to just go with it. Push yourself beyond your comfort level. Disrupt your own thinking about what teaching and learning looks like. Adjust your expectations.
Build Better Relationships
How well do you know your students? How well do they know you?
Do you have a special unique ‘thing’ with them. I’m not talking about standing at your door and having a different handshake for each student (it’s great if you do but not necessary)
Do you know their strengths, hobbies, interests. Do you take the time to listen, watch and give positive attention to your students.
These times most often happen organically as students are getting ready, outside on duty, during transitions, or in those moments where you show them that you see them.
It is where you also show them you. Your quirky, silly, fun side.
They know there is get down to business you that has high expectations and is demanding. But there is also the silly side that encourages them to get ready for recess while singing crazy made up songs in the hallway. Or stops in the middle of a lesson for a 30 sec dance party. Because…well why not?
Stop Comparing to Someone Else’s Highlight Reel
It’s hard not to
We are bombarded every day with perfect classrooms, cute decor, shiny objects etc
But remember we are teachers. Unlike mommy bloggers teachers can’t share the blooper reel.
If I have a bad day I need to be careful about what I put out there. Because the cause of that bad day is someone’s child. So I choose not to share that part. Not because it doesn’t happen but because it’s not fair to that child if I do.
I also rarely post about my own children as we have made a conscience effort to keep some things private.
My day is never all rainbows and sunshine.
I don’t have everything together. You can’t see the team behind me that makes what I do possible.
But that team is there and I am here because I get it. Teaching is hard and if I can save you time and energy and stress by giving support, encouragement or resources then the time I put in it is worth it.
How do you get kids to learn?
Learning happens gradually over time. We know that content that is revisited over time has a much larger impact over content that is delivered in a ‘one and done’ style.
So what does it mean to gradually release responsibility.
This means that we are moving students from needing us to not needing us. We are moving them to independent tasks.
So what does this look like in the classroom.
Well it looks at 4 different levels of support that you move students through to teach a concept.
It means that we don’t expect students to do anything independently before we get them to do it with us. Now that doesn’t mean they don’t try. But it does mean that we don’t assess them until we can get work them through the learning.
The four different levels are
- Modelled teaching
- Shared learning
- Guided learning
- Independent learning.
So what does this look like in the classroom?
In this phase students are introduced to learning about something.
The teacher is teaching the students are watching. There is a lot of talking through what you are doing to make your thinking visible. This is like show and tell of teaching.
The teacher has 90% of the control over the learning.
In Writing – you are walking them through how you do something. You show them and talk them through your thought process.
In reading you are doing the reading. You are sharing the thinking. You are the only one with the book.
In math – you are showing students how you do something you are making your thinking visible. Say it, show it, do it live.
In this type of learning you are learning along side your students the teacher is less in control.
You may lead the learning but the students have all of the materials in front of them.
They are starting to use this as a way to follow along as you do it with them. You ask them for more input as this is less of a passive experience.
Think of this as a 60/40 split. Where the teacher is still doing most of the heavy lifting. Teachers create anchor charts and learning objectives here for students to follow.
In Writing – you may write together. Whole group teacher asks for input but leads the discussion. More interactive with students.
In reading – everyone has a copy of the text and you work though it together. You ask questions and get answers but the teacher is still leading.
In math – you may work through a problem together. Students share what they learned and you help to walk them through the learning.
This is small group learning
Easy assessment opportunities.
More work done here by student.
Teacher as a guide not a leader.
Student on their own without support.
Students lean on examples and previous support
Use anchor charts from previous lessons.
Here is where you assess
Can they apply what they have learned to do as you ask.
Students also do not pass through this in a straight path. Sometimes it is two steps forward and one step back.
This is why time is your friends and revisiting concepts over and over helps
Give small goals and take baby steps.
What is driving you crazy focus on that. Do that. Fix that. Show them how, do it together, let them try.
Just don’t do too much for them.
Students will not do it all all at once. It will be one step at a time.