Monday, October 19, 2015

instructional options

Here we are, the end of October. School has been in session for a couple of months. Routines are established, beginning of year assessments are completed, and the heavy work of the academic year has been the focus for weeks.

When thinking about instruction, it can be so valuable to think about a variety of options. We all know this, but we fall into patterns really easily. We move, say, from whole group, to small homogeneous group, to one-on-one conferences and use this pattern for all lessons. But there are other options to keep in mind...

Whole group: Whole group instruction is appropriate when planning for common goals and experiences for the entire class. It can allow a teacher to provide valuable background in a new topic, directions for a procedure, or provide an experience with a new concept. Whole group instruction is a useful strategy for teachers in that it requires less preparation and fewer management strategies to implement. It's important to think about how to keep all students engaged throughout whole class lessons - think-pair-share, thumbs up-thumbs down, stop and summarize, write a question on a white board, reflection.

Small group homogeneous: Sometimes it is important to pull students together that all need to work on a particular skill. These homogeneous groups should be flexible and dynamic, and should change as students grow and progress. While it might be hard for teachers to resist, it is particularly helpful not to assign names to these groups - somehow the act of assigning a name to the group makes it harder to adjust. So, if the purpose of the lesson is to help students progress in particular needs, then homogeneous grouping works best. 

Small group heterogeneous: Heterogeneous groupings also work toward a common goal, but students have varied backgrounds and skills in the topic at hand. Groups can be randomly or intentionally assigned, depending on the purpose. Assigning roles to group members can help keep all students engaged in the work at hand.

Peer pairing: Partner work can help students beginning to work independently on a concept while working in a supportive environment. Peer partnering can also allow the teacher to work with small groups and one-on-one with students. 

One-on-one conferencing: When working one-on-one, the teacher can really target the specific needs of a student. These sessions are likely to be brief, but can be powerful. Knowing your students and their needs well will help make the most of these individual lessons.

While it might not work for students to experience all of these within one lesson or even across each day, they will benefit if they learn in a variety of contexts across the week. You can think about your instruction for the week with a chart:

Whole group
Small group - homogeneous
Small group - heterogeneous





Keep track of when you use which strategies, and try to increase the variety. Of course, the benefit of this is not just for variety's sake; the purpose is to differentiate to meet the needs of all students most effectively. So you'll have to choose appropriately for the content and student needs.

Happy planning!

Resource: Howard, M. (2012). Good to great teaching: Focusing on the literacy work that matters. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Monday, October 5, 2015

working with students who challenge us: two-minute intervention

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson - See more at:
 Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year.
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson - See more at:
“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson - See more at:

Now that the school year is into October, 4-6 weeks in, we have begun to settle into routines. We've gotten to know our students, and we know which students challenge us the most. Something I plan to focus on this year a lot on the blog are management technique suggestions for teachers, something new teachers often say they need to support them.

Previous posts on classroom management can be found here. Today, the focus is on a proactive management technique focused on building relationships with students who are challenging - the two-minute intervention (Mendler, 2012). The two-minute intervention is simple - spend two minutes each day for 10 consecutive days trying to build your relationship with that one student that is most challenging. It may be difficult at first - the student may be reluctant to talk, but it's important to keep at it trying not to get too discouraged. Staying committed to two minutes, for 10 days can make a remarkable difference in your relationship with this student. Plan to connect with the student while others are working independently on something, so it can be woven into your lesson plan, and not seen as something that will take away from instruction.

So what can you do for these 2 minutes? If you've done an interest inventory, now is the perfect time to revisit that information. Find something that the student is passionate about outside of school and begin there. Notice if the student is wearing a team jersey or talks with friends about a particular game or activity, and begin with these ideas. Start small. Even 30 seconds of positive conversation can begin to shift your relationship with a student.

Have you tried this intervention? Share suggestions with other teachers below!