The Science of Small Group Instruction

Sonia Delgado

By Sonia Delgado

The task of meeting the needs of students with varying abilities, attitudes, learning styles, perceptual modes, multiple intelligences, diverse languages and multicultural backgrounds is often our biggest challenge in the classroom. Planning and implementing small group instruction is the most effective practice for differentiation and personalized learning.

Small group instruction is at the heart of differentiation because it gives us the opportunity to work with students at their zone of proximal development. Click To Tweet

Small group instruction is at the heart of differentiation because it gives us the opportunity to work with students at their zone of proximal development. Small group instruction is most powerful when it is used to deliver instruction for the specific needs of the learner (McCleod, S.A.2012). Although we may think of SGI as a remedial tool used for struggling students when scaffolding to mastery of a standard, it is also the way to accelerate, extend and enrich learning.

Small Group Instruction is most effective when used in conjunction with other Best Practices such as Collaboration, Autonomy, Assessment and Formative Feedback. These recommendations are part of the “science” of small group instruction that will maximize your impact the classroom.

Plan Collaboratively

One person alone can’t do it all, so it’s important to plan as teams in PLC to make use of each individual teachers’ talents. Use these questions to guide planning of SGI leads to have the most impact on learners. (Gregory, et al. 2016)

  • What do I want them them to learn?
  • How will they learn it?
  • What will I do if they don’t learn it?
  • What will I do if they do learn it?

Design diagnostic pre-assessments and analyze the data in order to determine specific student needs

Pre-assessments should be standards aligned and must include questions at different levels of rigor that identify gaps, previous experience, misconceptions, readiness, and mastery of skills. This data can be collected in form of ungraded pre-quizzes, surveys, exit tickets or entry cards before the start of a lesson or learning unit.

Deliver customized small group experiences based on the collected data

Small group instruction can take many forms and should include a variety of tasks for students whose data has identified them as on level, below level and above level. It is also important to design activities that appeal to different perceptual modes.

Using a standards aligned rubric can help you align activities that are at different levels of rigor to keep the other student groups working and busy while you deliver small group instruction to those who need you most. This also gives students the opportunity to collaborate and learn from each other.

Small group instruction can take many forms. It should include a variety of tasks for students whose data has identified them as on level, below level and above level. Click To Tweet

Monitor student progress using formative assessment and feedback

Feedback must be timely and be given often. This ongoing practice will help you adjust your small group instruction based on the data you collect from your students. Providing checks for understanding during and after small group instruction helps you and your students keep track of progress and plan for next steps. Facilitate this practice with the use of the same four PLC questions written from a learner’s perspective. (Gregory et al. 2016)

  • What do I need to learn?
  • How will I learn it?
  • What will I do if I don’t learn it?
  • What will I do if I do learn it?

Introduce Autonomy

Use tools for learner tracking and design opportunities to reflect on learning. Students who are given the opportunity to self assess and track mastery benefit greatly because they are playing an active role in the creating and implementing strategies to improve their own performance. (Gregory et al. 2016)

Students who are given the opportunity to self assess and track mastery benefit greatly because they are playing an active role in the creating and implementing strategies to improve their own performance. Click To Tweet

As a secondary science teacher I was always ready to differentiate for my students, but I was often at a loss when it came to meeting the needs of each and every one of them. Small group instruction provided a way to connect with students, give them feedback, address misconceptions, and help those who struggled, without having to repeat the same information to each student individually.

What small group instruction strategies are currently working for you?


1 thought on “The Science of Small Group Instruction

  1. Great blog…concise and informative. Differentiation is an area that every educator struggles with at one time or another. The points you make are solid practices that make a world of difference for learners and educators!

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