Small Group Directions

I recently stumbled into a variation of an old idea. For the last couple of years I have moved away from whole-group instruction as much as possible and focused more on small group and individual instruction, and it has worked wonders for me. I’ve been able to help students much more specifically by doing student-paced discovery learning and individual conferences. This year, I started noticing another issue though. Rather than explaining it, I’m just going to use what happened in class as an example.

I break my class up into different segments so that it’s not just 50 minutes of the same thing. It helps the time go by faster, and it keeps students a little more engaged with class, but I started noticing the same trend. Whenever we finished one section, I would announce to the class instructions to go ahead and transition over into the next. However, as I will walked around my classroom, I would notice that several students would still be doing what we had just been working on. When I told them we were moving on to the next activity, a lot of them would comment that they didn’t know we were doing that. I noticed this especially with the weekly reflection I have my students do on Fridays. I would tell them toward the end of class to do their weekly reflection, and I did not get as many submitted as I expected.

Same song, different verse. I realized that even something as simple as whole-group directions still has the same problems. So I tried something different. One Friday, I tried something new. When it was time to complete the weekly reflection, I didn’t speak to the whole class. Instead, I walked to each table in my room and told the students who were working to go ahead and complete the weekly reflection. I noticed a huge increase in the number of students that completed it.

So I tried it with other things as well. Here’s what I noticed: small group directions, just like small group instruction, helped ensure that more students were paying attention to what I said. It was much easier to make sure that 4 students were listening and understood what I wanted them to do rather than trying to do that for 30. And it didn’t take a ton of time. I move through my whole classroom in a matter of minutes. Nothing majorly profound, but definitely something that has shifted my thinking in class.

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