Un-Scary Differentiation #3 – Grouping Strategies

I was a little late to the game with using data strategically in the classroom, so I can empathize with any of you who might be intimidated by the idea of grouping students based on data and those of you who might struggle with the hardest part – continuously changing those groups based on daily, updated data.  More recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some colleagues who shared with me efficient ways of getting students into groups based on data so that we were not spending extra hours poring over spread sheets to set up small groups and tutorial lists.  Here are a few of their strategies:

Student trackers – Getting students to analyze the data for you not only saves you time outside of class, but also allows the students to have a clear picture of how they’re doing, which is very empowering.  If your most recent assessment was chunked by objective or tiered by level, have the students go through and calculate which skills they mastered and which they didn’t.  If you have students record their results on a form of some kind and turn it back in to you, it’s now easy for you to flip through and see who needs what.  This way you and the students have a record of how they’re doing and a way for you to determine how to group your students for reteaching or tutorials.  Check out our last post for an explanation of tiered assignments and other ways to use them if you missed it.

Sticker groups – I got this idea from one of the deans of instruction at YES and it’s fantastic!  While she grades assessments, she puts a sticker on each paper that corresponds to their level of mastery on whichever objective she’s targeting.  Then in class when it’s time for students to move into groups, she has them group themselves based on which sticker they have on their paper to work on whatever task she’s determined for each sticker group.  So easy! 

Entrance ticket – On a review day, as the ‘Do First’ activity as soon as students walk in the door, have them complete an assignment that is chunked by objective or tiered by level.  Post the answers for students to immediately grade and determine which objective or level they have yet to master.  Based on these results, you can pull a small group to target a specific objective while everyone else reviews with their groups or works on another task.  And if you find that most students missed a certain objective or skill, you might shift gears and do a whole-class reteach instead.  The key to this working is having a review packet or selection of activities ready that has a few questions or tasks per objective so that no matter which objectives each class or student needs to work on, they can simply skip to that section of questions or grab the corresponding assignment sheet.  Another key is limiting the number of objectives so that you don’t spend all night preparing work for 10 different objectives – 2 or 3 is plenty!

Pre-teaching – This strategy sort of precedes the data you collect in class and came from one of my grad school professors.  For those students who were continually needing extra support and small group instruction, I started having that group of 5-7 students stay after school once per week with me and, instead of reteaching prior objectives, I would pre-teach what the rest of the class was about to learn.  This did amazing things for their confidence because those students were now the ‘smart ones’ during class since they already knew some of the new material.  For objectives I did this with, it also meant that when I used formative assessment data to pull students into small groups, the ‘low kids’ didn’t necessarily need the extra help anymore since they’d already gotten that extra help ahead of time.  Often I’d work with them on Thursday afternoons and send a short homework assignment for them to do over the weekend in preparation for teaching the full lesson on Monday.  The tutorial students were motivated to do that extra homework because they knew it meant they would be ahead of the class come Monday and so started a positive motivation cycle for them.  This strategy can be particularly helpful for those of you who are having a hard time getting started with differentiation or strategic grouping since it helps head off skill gaps before they happen!

Student Choice – Occasionally, if you haven’t had time to determine groups ahead of time or you just want to change things up, allow students to choose what objective they want to work with or who they want to work with.  Although they may not always make the right choice, it can often boost their motivation when they’ve been trusted with the decision.
 

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