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NYC Helpline: How To: Develop as a Professional

The Power of Small Group Instruction
Theresa London Cooper

One habit of effective professionals is reflection. As teachers, we ponder how best to meet the needs of our students, and then, we take action.  Small group instruction is an effective way to differentiate instruction and meet the needs of our students.  It requires thorough planning and responds to informal and formal data collected from various sources, which help teachers construct a comprehensive profile on students’ interests, abilities and challenges. What are some of the data you collect to familiarize yourself with your students? 

There are numerous benefits when small group instruction is implemented well.  Students develop relationships with many of their classmates. Students are given opportunities to discover commonalities, strengths and weakness as well as ways to help each other. The teacher has more time to meet the needs of her most challenging students who may require greater teacher guidance while giving her high achievers time to work independently at a pace that promotes active learning. How do you scaffold the process in your class so that all students have opportunities to work independently and successfully?

Students benefit from exposure to multiple teachers and opportunities for learning. It provides time to reinforce subject matter in various ways. Therefore, it is a worthwhile practice in literacy, mathematics, social studies, science, art projects and community-based projects. How often do you use small group instruction in science and social studies?

Small group instruction builds community since it brings students together around a common purpose.  Students who have common interests, but different ability levels, have opportunities to work together.  Students who have a common problem have time to work as a team to address the issue. How many of your students know all of their classmates’ names?  Do they know who can support their learning and whose learning they can support?  How do you arrange opportunities for students to work together?  When do you arrange small group instruction? 

Small group instruction should be done after careful observation as a form of intervention to meet the needs of your students as you move them toward independence. When implementing small group instruction think about the information you have.  Think about an efficient system that will allow you to collect data, which will inform your instruction.  Consider multiple ways to group so that students have opportunities to work with different classmates.  Take into account using small group instruction in areas other than reading and mathematics.  Plan thoroughly so students are clear about the purpose and the objective.  

Lastly, remember small group instruction is not an exact science and it takes time to refine. However it is done after careful observation as a form of intervention to meet the needs of your students as you move them toward independence.

E-mail Theresa

See also:Grouping for Guided Reading  by Miriam Bissu


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