Guided reading groups, ability-based instruction, flexible groupings, peer dyads, needs-based units -- those terms all refer to multiple groupings -- sub-environments where students you can use to help students come together to improve their literacy skills. Why should you consider such an approach in your reading instruction? Multiple groupings are an effective way to deal with diversity in interests, abilities and learning styles: No child learns in only one way; no two children learn in the same way.
Before you can begin to effectively use small groups in your reading
classroom, however, you need to focus on where your students are. The
simple exercise below can help:
Create a spreadsheet entry for every student. (Your school might have a computer program for entering the data.) Column headings should include the National Reading Panel's five keys to effective reading instruction, as well as other potential grouping topics. A segment might look like this:
When you have an entry for each student, use a 0 to 5 scale (with 5 meaning mastery of grade-level standards) to chart students' current skill levels in each of the first six columns. The last two columns can include any additional information you consider pertinent. (For easiest sorting, use consistent words for those columns.) When the spreadsheet is complete, sort by any column to build groups based not only on skill level, but also on interests, strengths, or scheduling.
Expand your thinking beyond static ability-based groups: Mix it up while keeping in mind specific reading goals for the class. Dr. Jeanne Paratore of Boston University's School of Education recommends groupings that give children "access to grade-level concepts and ideas, and that guide them toward strategies necessary to become self-sufficient and self-directing readers."
The questions below will further help you structure groups:
Finally, consider opportunities for working with individual students within this more flexible classroom structure. Coordinate with your reading specialist and other staff to provide struggling readers with intense, frequent mini-lessons within the group or outside of it. It might be the layering they need.IN THE REAL CLASSROOM
Ready to try a multiple grouping in your reading classroom? This K-12 idea is courtesy of Wendy Raymond, a 6th grade language arts teacher at Michigan's Tappan Middle School.
Select 10-30 thematically related books (matched to your students' range of ability). After an initial introduction, let each student choose one or two books and group those who are interested in the same title. Identify the core objective and teach students how to function in a literature circle. (For more information about literature circles, see the Education World articles Literature Circles Build Excitement for Books! and Literature Circles Strategy of the Week.)
In K-2 classes, you might invite parents or support staff to float among groups, helping students become discussion directors, connectors (making connections to things in the real world), illustrators, literary luminaries (pointing out great figurative language), and vocabulary enrichers (identifying words that most students might not know). Rotate jobs and regroup students with each new book they read. Teams of older students can help by developing book summaries to share with the class, or designing tests to check understanding.
Opening a new world where struggling readers can contribute and learn takes vision. "There's no question that it's a big challenge," says Patricia Woodin-Weaver, facilitator of the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development's network on differentiated instruction, "but there's no bigger challenge than trying to insert kids in a one-size-fits-all [classroom] and then having to deal with the spillover of emotional and behavioral reactions. If kids are not in a place where they can learn, they let us know loud and clear."
Using multiple groupings to engage every student in learning can be the motivator struggling readers need. Let that concept seep into content areas as well. It provides a structure easily connected to curriculum goals and standards and sends the consistent message that there are many ways to learn.
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