Instruction to Reduce the Need for Small Groups

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It’s not a secret that I’m not a fan of group rotations. The minute you divide up your students and put them into groups, you cut down the time students can experience fully guided instruction. However, I am aware that some students with additional needs do much better in small groups for various reasons. There are simply times when the range in our classes and lack of adult support means that small groups are the only option available to you.

But a wide range or doing it on your own doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to have 5 or 6 groups in your class. Today’s post shares some ideas for reducing the number of groups in your class so that your students can benefit from more fully guided instruction. Reducing the number of groups in your class from five to four or from four to three can make a significant difference to your students’ outcomes.

Use Review to Both Front Load and Practise
You can use your daily review to ‘prime the pump’ for learning that is to come. For example, you may have taught one or two representations of the phoneme /ay/ and plan to teach a third one in two weeks. Including the two representations, you have already taught in your daily review and reinforcing the decisions students make in spelling will help them be open and ready to learn the third grapheme you have planned. This is particularly important for your students who are struggling with memory, word retrieval or developmental language disorder (remember, there will likely be at least 2 in your class). 

Tuesday Tip - Frontload Learning
Tuesday Tip (38)

Use Retrieval Practice Consistently and Effectively
The benefits of retrieval practice are well documented. Asking students to draw knowledge/skills out of their brains and apply it is a fantastic way to help students keep up with the pace of learning in your classroom.   Combining retrieval practice with spacing and interleaving makes this even more powerful. Spread the review out to give students questions from last week, the week before, and last term. Instead of presenting your daily review as  the words

rain, sprain, train, dream, sea, seat, night, flight, sight

mix them up and have students read and spell

rain, dream, night, sprain, sea, flight, train, seat, sight

Mixing up questions from the same learning area requires students to make decisions as they answer. It is this slight increase in effort that makes learning stronger.

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Have Established Tier 2 Practices in Place
The goal is to help children keep up and not have to catch up. Formative assessment and constant checking for understanding will keep you informed about which students need that bit of extra support. Effective, ‘in-time’ Tier 2 support can be the difference between students keeping up or falling behind. Without this chance for additional exposure and support, your class data looks less like a bell curve and more like a wave with a very long tail. When this happens, you end up with 5 or 6 groups to juggle.

Have Established Instructional Routines
There is a reason we keep hearing about low-variance routines. It’s because they work brilliantly for both teachers and students. When you and your students know what is to come in the lesson, where everyone is supposed to be and what they are supposed to be doing, you eliminate students having to waste cognitive energy working out what they are supposed to be doing. This maximises time on task, and the number of exposures/repetitions students experience.   It also helps students to develop better self-regulation and, in turn, makes it easier to differentiate within the lesson. Being able to have half the students work on a quick task on their own while you provide extension or support to the other half means that you can have the same core content but adjust the stretch or scaffolding to suit the needs of different students.

Have Your Practice Extend Across Classrooms
This one is somewhat out of the control of the average classroom teacher, but the most effective way to reduce the need for grouping in your classroom is to ensure that strong instructional practices extend across the early years. When every teacher supports and teaches in a way that helps students keep up, the need to catch up is drastically reduced. Being able to redistribute the adult helpers in a classroom to instruction because everyone is on the same page will see your students’ results improve dramatically. The goal is to eliminate the need for teachers to be mopping up to results of ineffective instruction from the previous year. A ‘whole school’ approach with consistent professional learning, coaching and support makes this possible.


If you would like to join the teams and teachers mentioned in this post and hop on board the Science of Reading bus, you might like to sign up for my brand new, FREE program coming in July, “5 Things You Need to Know to Get Children Reading in the Early Primary Years”. Beginning on July 4th, I will send you an email each day for 5 days with a short training video, useful links and practical downloads. It all comes together with a live wrap-up session where you can have all of your questions answered and finish up the program. To read more and book your place click the image below. 

5 Things you Must Know to Get Children Reading

1 comment

Alison Fahey

Establishing routine in the classrrom is a no brainer. Kids like to know where the boundaries are and what is coming up next. The daily review is another big tick. Whether it be spelling, tricky words or tier 2 and 3 vocabulary learned so far, say it, read it, sound it then write it. 

There are 3 R's in developing automaticity and reducing cognative overload: review, review and  now what was the other one... Ah! yes review.

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