Creative Flexible Grouping

This blog was originally written on March 3, 2020

How could these ideas be implemented in a virtual learning scenario?

I was conducting midyear Inclusion Rounds last week with the district Special Education Director and building principals. Getting back into classrooms keeps me real by reminding me about issues teachers face on a daily basis and reinforcing the complex layers of systems change. There are just so many variables to consider as we transform educational systems into nurturing places for ALL students AND teachers!

It was heartwarming to see evidence that it’s working in classrooms where teachers creatively used flexible grouping. I’d like to share four examples that I saw. Maybe you could find ways to adapt some of their ideas in your practice?

Conaway & Sprigg’s middle schools have been working on explanatory writing. Their dilemma was that students were in different completion stages, but they wanted to move forward with the revision process. Their solution: split the class into two groups. Group A had finished their first draft. Group B (including a new student) were still writing.

First these two teachers used one teach/ one support to review the difference between edit actions and revise actions. They organized notes on the board using a T chart (a student’s suggestion). As one teacher used questions to prompt student contributions, the other asked clarifying questions.

Then every student in Group A and B passed his paper to the right. Both teachers jumped into action with her designated group. Group B used the top part of the rubric to give peer feedback on editing. Group A used the bottom part of the rubric to give peer feedback on revising. Great example of alternative teaching!!! 

Long & Wilkins displayed student names in four groups on the board. They directed those in the blue list to pair up with someone on the green list and find a place to work. The red group would work with Mr. Long and the yellow group with Mr. Wilkins. All students would be working on the same math skill. They used one teach/ one support to ask clarifying questions and reinforce the learning purpose (EQ) of the activity. 

Paired students collaborated on assigned problems in their textbook. Mr Long remediated foundation skills with his group first and then moved into the thinking needed to solve the first problem in their textbook. Mr. Wilkins guided his group through individual white board step-by-step practice and student modeling of the textbook problems. The most amazing aspect of this lesson was how smoothly students transitioned into this alternative and parallel teaching activity – in less than a minute! It was obvious that flexible grouping is part of their daily routine. 

Sherman & Moore were giving students practice with finding text evidence using parallel teaching. They divided their 4th grade class into 3 groups. Ms. Sherman read the text aloud to her group, stopping frequently and inviting students to share evidence in the text they underlined to support their claim. Ms. Moore worked with the second group, asking them to share text evidence they discovered in the paragraph they had just read silently. The third group worked independently or in pairs, scattered around the room. Every student was intent on finding the clues the author had left them. 

Jenney & Lewis had their 2nd graders on their feet. Each group of 3 students clustered around a flip chart sheet with two overlapping circles as they identified similarities and differences in the stories “Stone Soup” and “Stone Garden.” Crayons and pencils were busy drawing pictures and writing words to represent features of character, story events, or setting. Both teachers circulated in shared facilitation with phrases like, “I like your thinking. Where does that idea go?” What impressed me most was the little girl who put an encouraging arm around her friend and said, “We want your ideas on our Venn Diagram too. It’s OK if you can’t spell.”

These eight teachers are just a sampling of the creative flexible grouping that we witnessed that day. Each pair had thoughtfully planned their approach to maximize student engagement in learning and provide themselves ways to gather formative data with a smaller teacher-student ratio. 

Most of these flexible grouping strategies could be adapted if you are a solo teacher. It just takes a commitment to being more effective today than you were yesterday. My sincere thanks to teachers who graciously allowed us to witness their commitment. You have recharged my battery!