Successful students develop a deep understanding of concepts, are willing to think independently, and are able to use what they know to solve real problems and complete quality learning tasks. Flexible skill groups allow students to flex their mental muscles and build these skills in meaningful ways, as you work to meet their differing developmental needs.
Teachers can effectively differentiate instruction using flexible small groups when teaching new concepts, building existing skills, and modeling processes. These skill groups allow for remediation or enrichment, and are ideal formats for the ongoing assessments needed to drive meaningful instruction.
So how do you go about setting up effective flexible skill groups?
- Determine the big ideas of the unit of study based on the goals and needs of your students.
- Observe your students – informally and formally. Choose what is most meaningful in driving your instruction – pretests, formative assessments, performance tasks, anecdotal records, and daily observations.
- Compile and review information. Look for strengths and deficits to determine the needs and teaching points for each group. Can one student support or model positive learning behaviors for others?
- The groups should be flexible! Consider these possible options: homogeneous or heterogeneous – based on interests, tasks, student choice, student learning profiles, readiness, ability, partner teams, small groups, center activities, project groups, team contracts, problem solving groups, independent studies, enrichment, or remediation.
There is great value in flexible small skill groups. The ongoing use of student data allows us to plan more responsive instruction to better meets students’ needs. Working in small teams builds students’ self-confidence and provides a safe place to take risks and implement new strategies. There is greater engagement for all levels of students because the content is interesting and appropriately challenging for each team. When our students are given respectful tasks, their attitudes are more positive, so they are more likely to persevere and make the connections that lead to meaningful learning. Research has shown us that intelligence is like a muscle that can grow when exercised regularly, so let’s flex those cognitive muscles in flexible small groups.