Thursday, June 28, 2012

Small Group Instruction

Do you remember Charlie Brown's teacher?  How did she sound?  Wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah, wah.  I'm sure when teachers stand in front of their rooms and lecture to the whole class, the only thing a special group of students hear are the words of Charlie's teacher!

But why?  The stuff we teach them is sooooooo interesting, right?!  Well, unfortunately for us, we often find more interest in it than our students.  Maybe what we're teaching is too far below a students' learning level...he already knows the stuff.  Or, maybe a student is missing the necessary skills to understand what you're saying.  Of course, there is always the student (or students!) who just have a hard time attending to a task, especially if the task consists of "sitting and getting."

For these reasons, we do not do whole group instruction in our classroom.  Instead, we use small group and individual instruction as the primary format of how we deliver content to students.  We have structures set in place where the majority of students are working on different activities, giving us the opportunity to work with small groups of students.

Small group instruction is valuable for several reasons, most of which are obvious.
  • The setting itself often takes away many distractions, allowing students to better attend to what you are saying and/or doing.  
  • When we work with students in small groups, we are better able to differentiate the students' instruction, ensuring it is appropriate for their developmental learning levels.  
  • While doing small group instruction, we can better informally assess how students are responding to the instruction.  You can have individual conversations with the students in your small group or make observations of what they're doing to assess their level of understanding.
  • It is also often easier to tweak an activity when you're only working with five or six students, versus 25 students, if you see what you planned is not working as well as you thought it would!  (Not that that ever happens, right?) 
There are also other benefits of small group instruction.
  • Students likely feel more comfortable participating in discussions and activities, as the small setting is a natural safety net for them. 
  • Relationships can easier be built between students and teachers, as well as amongst students themselves.  
  • Students also learn and practice how to respect other students' ideas and beliefs, which can be difficult for children, as they often live in the Me Me Me World!  
  • It is often easier to make learning more relevant when you are planning for a small number of students, which is often critical in building connections for students and increasing engagement!
I usually really enjoy my small groups, as it gives me a chance to not only more effectively teach my students, but also to learn more about them and laugh with them!

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