If you ask any teacher, I think most of them would say that the 2021-2022 school year has been just as difficult as the 2020-2021 school year, if not more. It’s been difficult to keep my morale up when students are so traumatized from the pandemic. Almost every teacher will tell you about the increase in student immaturity and misbehavior and the decrease in student perseverance and stamina. I have found it difficult to recapture the joy that I had in the classroom before the pandemic.
The fabulous Spanish teacher Anne Marie Chase was feeling similarly until she started doing some small-group instruction in her extremely difficult first-year class. She decided to divide the class into three groups. On day one, two groups did individual, silent work (Each group did a different assignment). She led the other group in a conversation designed to provide lots of input. Over the next two days, the groups continued to rotate until they had all done all three activities. You can read more about her solution here.
This gave me the idea to try something similar with the class novel we’re currently reading. In class, I have lots of “fast finishers” who grow impatient when I don’t go through the chapter quickly and other students who are “late finishers” and absolutely need me to go slowly. I decided to divide students into two groups, with one group working independently and the other working with me in a small group. I let all student choose which group they wanted to be in but warned those who chose to work independently that I would make them join the small group if they completed their work poorly.
Students who work independently read our current chapter while listening to the chapter being read to them on the audio. Students who opt to work in a small group read together with me as I project the text on my Smartboard. When they’re done reading, both groups complete of one of three post-reading activities. I usually give them the option of taking a quiz on a Google Form, drawing a comic strip based on a summary in the target language about the chapter they read, or completing a cut-and-paste activity that requires them to cut out sentences and put them in chronological order based on the chapter.
I’m blown away by how well this system is working in class. I think my stronger students appreciate not having to plod through the whole chapter, and my weaker students appreciate the extra support I can give them in a small group. I can already see improvement in attention, engagement, and performance of some of my weaker students.
If you decide to try something like this, here are my suggestions:
- Hold students accountable for their work. Give grades for the independent work and make students redo things that they do poorly on. Otherwise, they may not complete their work with solid effort.
- While working with students in the small group, don’t forget to stop every once in a while to monitor students working independently to make sure they are not off task.
- Don’t use this technique for the first chapter, especially if you haven’t done a novel in class before. Do the first chapter slowly as a whole class. If this is the first time reading a novel in class, you might consider reading the second chapter together as a whole class as well.
- Don’t use this technique for every chapter or it will get monotonous. I usually do this every two or three chapters depending on how many new vocabulary words are in the chapter. For other chapters, you can read together as a whole class or you can have students follow along with the audio.
So far, results have been extremely positive. My “fast finishers” love being able to work at their own pace, and I heap tons of praise on them so they continue to be motivated to work hard. Students who choose to work in the small group love the extra support and attention. All students enjoy having the choice to decide not only which group they want to be in but also which follow-up activity they want to complete to show their understanding. It has been a real bright spot for me as well. As Anne Marie said in her blog, this technique is not that new to elementary teachers, who are masters of small group management and instruction, but it feels pretty new to me and has done wonders for my morale in what has been a pretty dark year. If you try this, let me know how it goes!