Monday, September 5, 2016

Mini Series: Small Group Instruction and Student Engagement/Teaching Techniques

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
Once we have our goals and our rules/routines prepared, it is time to get down to the actual instruction...and the only way we are going to be successful is if we have our students engaged in our lessons!  Some ways to encourage engagement are to:

1) Include a variety of activities (incorporate movement, hands-on, music, videos, worksheets, sensory, etc.)

2)  Include activities that have a concrete start and finish and students know what is expected (using visuals or samples/models can be helpful)

3) Keep students busy without too much down time
       -Group responding ("everyone do this" "everyone say ___")
       -Binders of individualized work
       -Sensory tools that students can hold/manipulate during down time to keep hands busy
       -Utilize multiple activities (no activity lasting longer than about 15 minutes)
       -Allow students to be as independent as possible and complete the majority of the activity (instead of adults intervening and doing it for them).

4) Use clear and concise language when giving directions/teaching concepts

5) Incorporate opportunities for students to make choices (color of marker, order of activities, topics of interest, etc.)

6) Incorporate visuals (visual directions, lists, schedules, sample crafts, etc.)

7) Incorporate previously learned/mastered skills (this helps maintain these skills over time and also helps reduce all new/challenging skills being targeted in a lesson)

8) Differentiate instruction to your students' individual levels

9) When teaching complex skills break them down into smaller component skills, model each skill, and have students practice each part of the skill after you model.

10) Develop/Utilize a reinforcement system or token economy to reinforce skills targeted in group time.

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