Recently the teachers in my building learned that after receiving district funds for the past five years to support our intervention efforts for struggling students, the funds would be eliminated. All interventions this year fall on the shoulders of our individual school budgets (which are not hearty). This left us with a need for creative solutions.
Before thinking outside the box, we experienced a bout of panic, fear, and skepticism for how we would accomplish the daunting task of providing academic and behavior interventions without a funding source. Four second-grade teachers came to me troubled and overwhelmed. As they examined the academic needs of their students, they saw many children with unique needs. Each of these savvy teachers was ready to get flexible groups up and running in their classroom. Unfortunately groups were not developing naturally, and what the teachers were faced with were one or two students with closely matched needs that they knew they would need to see daily for guided reading. A daily guided group or two can be manageable and allow time for conferring and other responsive instruction. But each teacher was facing three or four groups requiring daily instruction, and they continued to struggle with figuring out how to confer and meet with other students for strategy instruction.
Moving from Anger to Problem Solving
By the time the four teachers came to me with their frustrations they were angry, questioning the intentions of the district, and beyond the stage of problem-solving on their own. I suggested they consider flexible grouping across their classrooms, which was not something new for them as they did this kind of flexible grouping last year for math. What was different this year was that their anger and frustration with the situation had taken over, and they were feeling a sense of urgency. They were up for trying anything. I indicated that I would make myself available at their convenience to meet with and walk them through a sorting activity that would result in small flexible groups they would be able to manage while still meeting the needs of their entire class.
One of our district instructional coaching tools allows us to sort students and analyze their work to determine future instructional moves. Prior to meeting with the team, I set up the coaching protocol to reflect our district benchmark assessment expectations into five columns as seen below. Then as a group we slotted students from each classroom into the appropriate column to begin developing groups.
(25 or higher running record)
90% higher MAP
(18-21 running record)
(14-17 running record)
(10-13 running record)
Targeted/no evidence of growth
(9 and below running record)
The next step was to select a student from each group who was most reflective of that group. I encouraged the teachers to avoid selecting the student from each group that may have attendance or behavior issues. The reason for focusing on one student was so that the team could narrow and focus planning and instruction.
Our next move was to determine resources and what the instruction would look like for each group. The team selected two groups that need to meet five days a week. Then there are the two groups that Mrs. B. will facilitate; one will meet twice weekly and the other three times a week. The team discussed at length that they feel the proficient group will be short-term; there are just some gaps they would like to see filled in for this group of students. Mrs. T. will be working with five groups of students, one group each day. The team did not want to neglect the needs of students performing beyond grade level expectations and is hoping that Mrs. T. will be able to lead book clubs. Meeting with them weekly for discussion will foster independence and hearty discussion on days they may not meet with her.
We concluded our planning by determining how each classroom instructional aide will support the students in the classroom while the teachers are meeting with small groups. In addition, the team coordinated their reading workshop schedules and designated a 25-minute block for the across classroom flexible grouping. This block of time will allow them to complete the small-group work knowing that their most needy students have received small-group instruction, and permit them to focus the rest of their workshop time on other small groups and conferring.
Finally, I proposed that the team consider a "three weeks on and one week off" cycle for the grouping. This means that they will work intensively with the small groups for three weeks. During the fourth week they will assess and re-evaluate instructional needs and make adjustments. This will allow the groups to remain truly flexible, with students moving between them. It also gives the teaching team a chance to reflect on what they are learning as they work with students from different classrooms.