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.


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