Facilitate and Manage Learning Through Strategy Groups (PDF)
There are many options for delivering literacy instruction. Whether we choose whole-group, small-group, or one-on-one instruction, we keep in mind that grouping children for instruction is not an end in itself, but a way to effectively and intentionally differentiate, providing just-in-time instruction that meets students at their point of need.
Throughout our careers, our most common grouping structures have been whole groups and guided groups. During the first fifteen years of our teaching, our guided groups were inflexible. There were the blue birds, who were reading above grade level; the red birds, who were reading on grade level; and then the buzzards, those who dwelled at the bottom of our readers' food chain (we jest, but it isn't too far from the truth). Each group stayed together all year unless a member moved to a new school or a new student joined our class.
Then we began hearing the buzzwords "flexible groups". Researchers were asking, "You are doing flexible groups, aren't you? Your children are fluidly moving from group to group based on the skills and strategies they need, aren't they?"
Our initial reaction was, "Wow, what a pie-in-the-sky vision of guided groups. How would we ever manage the data collection? How would we know when to add children to groups, and then how would we determine when to move them out of that group? What a nightmare! If it's so important, why isn't someone telling us how to do it?"
The idea niggled in our minds. The image of our little buzzards flitted often in our heads, and we wondered: were they really lacking all the skills and strategies of proficient readers, or did they possess strengths others did not, despite their lower reading levels?
Our recollection of our own experience as children gave us a greater sense of urgency to figure it out. Joan was a perennial blue bird and Gail hovered between red birds and buzzards throughout elementary school. It wasn't until junior high and high school, when ability groups ceased to exist, that Gail was allowed to read nonfiction and her inner blue bird began to shine through.
Out of curiosity, we whipped out a blank sheet of paper and started writing down strategies the children needed based on their assessment data. We took note of which children needed similar strategies and an instructional planning form was conceived. This simple form has changed our teaching and our children's reading lives forever.
This Strategy Group form allows us to look at our children in terms of what skills and strategies they need next. We fill it out while assessing our students, placing their name in a box labeled with their goal and strategy at the top. Students are added and additional groups are formed as we continue to assess. When our assessments are finished, our flexible groups are organized as well. Good-bye buzzards; hello to readers working on like skills and strategies.
The largest section of each box is for the group's lesson plan. As we meet with groups, we record the date, the materials and the approach we took toward teaching the strategy, as well as the date and plan we have for the next time we want to meet with the group.
We use touch points to track student progress. Once students have mastered a strategy, we simply cross out their name and move them to another group that is working on a skill or strategy they need.
The form is simple, completely flexible, and sometimes a bit messy, but it works well for maintaining and managing truly flexible, need-based groups.
3 Box Small-Group Strategy Form