Monday, August 29, 2016

Mini Series: Small Group Instruction Big Picture Goals/Grouping Students

In my self contained (Federal Setting 3) classroom, I like to include a variety of learning opportunities for students throughout the day.  Students work independently, 1:1 or 1:2 with an adult, in small groups with 3-8 students, or together as a whole class (13 students).  When I first started teaching, I didn't dare to have any small groups regularly scheduled into my day because my students didn't seem I wasn't ready.  My students didn't have the skills to sit together without fighting or jumping up and running away from the table...and in the beginning, I didn't realize this was something I could teach them.  Small groups can be difficult to implement in a special education classroom without clear planning and prioritizing of your have students of varying abilities, students who don't get along socially, not to mention students who don't have pre-requisite functional skills for participating in a group.

Throughout this mini series, I wanted to focus on how to set up/plan for small group instruction. As you start to create your vision of what you want your small groups to look like and what your goals for your students are, I think it is important to make sure you relay this information to your paraprofessionals so they can help you in carrying out your vision whether they are supporting a small group you are leading or running one that you have set up for them.

1.  Establishing Big Picture Goals and Grouping Students 
2.  Establishing Rules/Routines/Norms for the Group 
3.  Student Engagement/Teaching Techniques
4.  Curriculum and Planning
5.  Data Collection and Role of Support Staff

When establishing big picture goals for your students in a small group, it is important to think about skills under 3 different categories: Classroom Skills, Social Skills, Academic/Topic Related Skills. Picking out what your big picture goals are at the beginning of the school year can help your group run more smoothly and help you plan your activities so your students get the most out of their educational time.

Classroom Skills
There are a variety of skills our students need to learn to be successful in school/work.  Teaching some of these skills in a smaller, structured setting can lead to more opportunities for our students in the general education classroom later on in their educational career.  Some of the skills that fit into this category are:
-Sitting in a chair
-Orienting body towards a teacher during instruction
-Hands quiet/hands to self
-Raising your hand to answer a question
-Taking turns/waiting appropriately
-Following teacher directions (1 step, more than 1 step)
-Following peer instructions
-Fine motor skills (squeeze glue, cut with scissors, hold/use pencil)

Social Skills
Small groups are a great time to work on social skills because you have multiple students grouped together!  Some of the skills that fit into this category are:
-Imitation skills (motor imitation, vocal imitation, peer imitation)
-Conversation skills

Academic or Topic Related Skills
In school, we also need to have some sort of focus on academic skills in addition to the more functional skills listed above.  Some examples of this are:
-Morning group (working on teaching weather, calendar, personal information, etc.)
-Daily Living skills/Life Skills (hygiene, sorting/folding laundry, setting table, etc.)
-Academic skills (concepts in reading, math, science, social studies, etc.)

You can choose to target only one of these skill types in your small group, but I find that you get more bang for your buck when you focus on more than one group of skills. Curricular maps addressing the skills you want to target can help inform your lesson planning throughout the year.  Here is an example of a Literacy curricular map that has incorporated all 3 types of skills for a group of students.

How do you want to group students?
Grouping students looks differently in every classroom based on your specific students.  It is important to keep in mind the group of skills (see above) that you are targeting.  You may want to consider student age, academic skills, and social skills.  You can group students together that are at similar levels, or you may want to group students together that can build off of/learn from each others' strengths.  For example, you may have a very social student who is socially ahead of other students in the group, but academically behind.  It may be better for the student to be in this group with academically differentiated work, where he can not only work on continuing to develop his social and academic skills but also be a good role model to his peers.

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