Posts Tagged ‘Flexible Grouping’

Student Interaction at the Secondary Level; Increasing Language Development for ELLs

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Author:  Trish Flores, Bilingual/ESL Specialist

 

Engaging students at high levels of interaction is a goal for today’s schools.  High levels of interaction ensure that students are learning to use metacognitive skills to reflect on what they are learning and how they are learning.  Meaningful interactions create opportunities for students to practice what they are learning and apply it to authentic situations.  Typically, our thoughts on establishing these learning environments revolve around core subject areas such as math, science, literacy, and social studies.  It is not uncommon for teachers of elementary students to engage them in cooperative learning activities that lead to high levels of interaction.  Recently however, secondary teachers of students whom are second language learners are seeing the value and importance of implementing cooperative learning activities to accomplish two goals: content mastery and language development.

It is a wide held understanding that a skill or new learning is perfected after it is practiced and used frequently.  One does not learn to play an instrument on the first or even tenth attempt.  Learning a new skill takes targeted and focused practice that needs to be structured.  In a middle school classroom, teachers can create this learning structured environment by establishing learning stations that are geared to the specific needs of English language learners.  These mini islands of knowledge are organized to allow students the opportunity to use new and existing academic vocabulary in various expressive manners in order to master content and increase their English proficiency.  Although this might be new territory for middle school teachers, it can be accomplished with relative ease and high levels of success.

 

Student Grouping

As with planning any activity for your classroom, teachers need to be aware of the ability levels of their students when assigning them to station groups.  When working with second language learners, teachers need to know the language proficiency levels of students so that they can create groups that will be successful in expressing their knowledge in a variety of ways. This information also assists teachers in knowing how to scaffold the lessons linguistically.  The proficiency levels for all four communication strands (listening, speaking, reading and writing) can be found in the chart below.

Beginning Intermediate Advanced Advanced High
Beginning ELLs have little or no ability to understand English used in academic and social settings. Intermediate ELLs have the ability to understand simple, high frequency English used in routine academic and social settings. Advanced ELLs have the ability to understand, with support, grade-appropriate English used in academic and social settings. Advanced high ELLs have the ability to understand, with minimum support, grade appropriate English used in academic and social settings.

Groups are flexible and can be changed based on the knowledge level of the content and the language proficiency of the students.

 

Activities

The activities placed in learning stations need to reflect the rigor of the content being taught in a whole group setting.  Once the content is introduced, activities to extend the learning are placed in the learning stations.  Keeping in mind the language proficiency levels of students, teachers need to differentiate the activities by providing resources such as vocabulary word banks, sentence stems, paragraph frames, visuals, dictionaries and other materials that provide scaffolds for ELLs.  It is important to keep in mind the goal of language development when designing activities. Students need to be able to develop expressive skills such as speaking and writing as well as the receptive skills of reading and listening.  It is vital that activities be structured to support student-to-student or group interaction and provide ways for  ELLs to use English to explain concepts and contribute to the work. This gives teachers an opportunity to gauge what the student has learned while assessing student progress in English language development.

 

Management

It is crucial that students understand how to manage themselves at learning stations. Teachers need to communicate their expectations for time management and group conduct.  Roles such as time keeper, leader, materials person and scribe can be assigned to students to encourage participation and accountability.  These roles also offer hidden opportunities for students to develop their oral language.

 

Accountability

Learning stations offer teachers opportunities to observe their students and gauge their level of understanding of content and language use.  As students complete activities they place work in station folders for teacher review.  Teachers may review the assignments to assess students’ use of language.  It is in this final step that teachers can provide students feedback and refine the learning tasks to create higher language learning expectations.

High levels of student engagement are goals for educators.  All teachers, regardless of content or grade level, should strive for high levels of engagement so that their ELLs can have opportunities to enhance their language skills.  Students should not merely be recipients of knowledge but active constructivists of their own learning.  This can only be accomplished when teachers create authentic learning environments that require students to speak, read, and write on a daily basis.

Grouping for Learning

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Placing students into smaller groups can help ensure student achievement.  Grouping practices not only impact achievement, but also improve attitudes toward peers and the subject matter.

Instead of this:

found at http://speedchange.blogspot.com/2011/02/passion-based-learning.html on 12-6-11

We could have this:

found at http://jpacte.learningcentered.org/photo_gal/photo_gal%20fall%202006.htm on 12-6-11

This level of engagement can be achieved through the use of grouping.  There are various reasons to form groups.

Situations that can be opportunities for grouping include:

  • Inquiry-based projects and investigations
  • Activation of prior knowledge
  • Exploration and expansion on subject matter
  • Reflection, review and reteach
  • Intervention
  • Enrichment

While students are in groups, the instruction can be centered around the teacher or the students.  A small group of students may be working in a teacher-centered group while the rest of the class participates in student-centered learning.

Teacher-centered instruction enables the teacher to differentiate student learning.  You can differentiate by re-teaching, providing enrichment and/or feedback or reinforcing a recently taught skill.

Group

Instructional Focus

Group Formation

Small Group

(same ability)

  • Instruction targeted to specific student  needs
  • Intervention
  • Enrichment
  • 3-5 students
  • Based on assessment data

Small Group

(mixed ability)

  • Practice concepts already introduced
  • Reinforcement
  • 4-6 students
  • Based on students’ learning styles or interests

Student-centered grouping allows for students to co-construct knowledge with their peers, thus allowing for teachers to pull small groups.  These student-to-student interactions also improve student engagement and retention.

Many options exist for carrying out student-centered groups.  The two listed below represent two ends of the spectrum, but a combination of both could be used depending on the content, age of the students and the intended outcome.  The key is students working together in a self-directed fashion to achieve a learning objective.

Group

Definition

Workstation

  • 3-4 students per group
  • 3-5 stations designed to support the TEKS and learning objectives
  • Explicit instructions given at each station to enable self-direction
  • Students may do all or a few of the stations. Work may be completed in one period or across multiple days.

Collaborative Group

  • 2-5 students per group
  • 1 inquiry-based project or activity designed to support the TEKS and learning objectives (may be tiered to adjust for student ability and prior knowledge)
  • Each group is working collaboratively to complete the activity

When educators hear the term “grouping” often we visualize an elementary classroom, but research strongly supports the use of many grouping strategies across all content areas and grade levels.  Students of any age benefit from the opportunity to discuss content with their peers, co-constructing a deep understanding of key concepts.  In addition, grouping builds habits of mind necessary for college and career success.

It may take many forms, but student grouping, in any iteration, is a valuable tool for increasing engagement, retention of content and overall achievement.

What Does Progress Monitoring Really Look Like?

Monday, December 12th, 2011

We are almost at the halfway point in the year and you have groups all over your classroom and so does everyone else in the school.  The questions start to echo off the walls: Is Mary in the right group?  Are they progressing fast enough to close the gap by the end of the year?  Am I doing this strategy correctly?  How do I group the students to get the most progress in the least amount of time?  Is this strategy working or not?

A critical key component to successful progress monitoring is setting reasonable goals.  We do not want to waste time implementing an ineffective strategy or taking data and then not using it to help guide our instruction.  If you have not set goals for your class as a whole and for individuals who are struggling, then you are going to have a very difficult time trying to get them where they need to be.  Consider the following analogy (Adapted from V. Lynch, C. McGuigan, and S. Shoemaker, “An Introduction to Systematic Instruction”).

Suppose you are taking a trip.  Contrast the difference between taking that trip having specified your destination and taking the trip with no special endpoint in mind.  For example, you leave Seattle this morning with a goal to reach Mexico City by nightfall three days hence, as opposed to merely leaving Seattle.  Without a specified destination and projected arrival time, you know neither in which direction to go nor how fast to travel; having established a goal, you know both these facts (head south and really hustle).  With this information you can judge whether the direction and the rate at which you are traveling will get you to your final destination on time.

If you have not set specific goals for the end of the year yet, it is not too late.  You need to meet with your colleagues/team and decide what the specific end of year goal is for each of your students.  Look back at your data and determine how many students have already met the goal, how many are close to reaching the goal already and how many students have a long way to go.  There are many research based standards for establishing performance goals using baseline data including DIBELS (http://dibles.uoregon.edu/), AIMSWeb (http://aimsweb.com/), and “Formative evaluation of academic progress: How much growth can we expect?”  School Psychology Review, 22, 27-48 (http://www.studentprogress.org/library/articles.asp).  You can also use normative peer data to establish a reference point for the initial goal for an individual. Not only is it critical to set a goal for your students but a key factor in determining success is teacher responsiveness to the data.  “Goal ambitiousness seems to positively affect student achievement.” (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Deno, 1985)  In other words, teachers and students who set their goals higher and continue to increase those goals progress at a more rapid rate than do peers who select lower performance goals and do not change them.  It is also crucial for teachers to follow specific rules for how to be responsive to the data instead of just collecting and graphing it.  Having clear and measurable goals allows teachers  to work as a team with other teachers and with the students.  There can be meaningful and concise communication with regard to how and what students need to improve, and whether they are indeed progressing.  Student progress will help keep the groups flexible as teachers adjust the groups according to student level of progress and program modification.

Let’s look at how to use goal setting, scores along the goal line, and program modification to make decisions about student progress.  If the student’s current level of performance is more than one-half of the peer norm, and if we had more than 30 weeks left in the school year, we would consider setting the goal at the current peer norm.  Since we do not have 30 weeks left in the year,  we need to reduce the goal to a level that we estimate to be attainable.  Initial goal setting may be done through estimation because it can be adjusted if the goal turns out to be unreasonable.   The main point here is to set a goal for every student so you know where you are headed.  Progress toward that goal is then represented on a student graph using a goal line.  When 4 consecutive scores exceed the goal line, raise the goal.  In contrast, when 4 consecutive scores fall below the goal line, modify the program.  Draw a vertical line on the graph to indicate where the program was modified and continue to graph the scores.  The new goal line will need to be parallel to (but lower than) the goal line beginning at the student’s present level of performance.  You may also adjust your groups at this time to regroup students who are progressing without modification and students who will all need an adjustment to the program.  Keep in mind that you will need to progress monitor the lowest 40% of your students more often than the others.  You will also need to monitor the programs in which more students are struggling more often than the programs in which most of the students are progressing along their goal line.

Program modification includes a myriad of options.  It is important to first look at the implementation integrity to make sure the program is being used in the way it was designed.  There are a number of implementation integrity checklists created by Alecia Rahn Blakeslee at http://www.aea11.k12.ia.us/idm.  Once you have determined the integrity of the intervention, you can start to look at ways to modify it in order to meet the needs of your students and your campus.  Deb Simmons has created a chart that displays alterable variables in programs. This chart is available at http://oregonreadingfirst.uoregon.edu/inst_swrm.html.  There are several other guidelines to consider when modifying any program.  Supplemental groups should optimally include no more than five or six students.  Intensive groups should optimally include no more than three or four students.  Put the most qualified staff with the neediest students.  Your campus may want to do a personnel resource inventory with ALL staff (general education, Title l and special education teachers, G/T, ELL specialists, paraprofessionals, trained volunteers) to see who has knowledge, skills and experience with the strategies you want to put in place.  Scheduling is another important factor.  Possibly have teachers teach core subjects at different times of the day or different periods so the support staff can schedule time in each classroom and students can access additional time in other classrooms.  You can list each teacher and support personnel’s schedule in 15 minute increments.  Any 15 minute section that they are not teaching core content is a possible intervention time.  This could be a way to provide the additional intervention time for the supplemental and intensive groups.

RtI implementation takes a commitment from all the staff and administrators.  Students will be successful if we use our time and resources effectively and efficiently.  At this point in the year teachers and the leadership team need to be looking at the goals for all students and their progress towards those goals.  It is critical to be responsive to the data that have been collected to modify the program after implementation fidelity has been established.  There are many resources to guide you through this process.  For more information please refer to the RtI Blueprint for Implementation- School Building Level at www.nasdse.org and the Progress Monitoring Leadership Team Content Module at www.rti4success.org.