Instructional groupings: valuable class strategy

Instructional groupings are a valuable classroom strategy
Posted on 03/27/2019
Guided reading at the Quincy Learning Center.Instructional groupings, teaching students in groups according to criteria other than grade level, is one tool Plumas Charter School uses to provide personalized learning. This year, instructional groupings have become an integral part of the Quincy Learning Center third- through sixth-grade program, but this important strategy is implemented at all other PCS learning centers as well.

PCS empowers its teachers to build class instruction around “creative, fluid, relevant groupings,” said Executive Director Taletha Washburn. Depending on the situation, these groups may include students of different ages, and those from different grade levels.

Ryan Schramel, teacher and site director of PCS’s Indian Valley Academy, points out that different grouping criteria make sense depending on the subject being presented, the project at hand, and even students’ personalities.

For example, he said that mixed grade/age groups can be advantageous for collaborative group projects, whereas groups of the same age/grade can be more effective for lessons with a social-emotional learning objective.

“Instructional grouping is a great tool for a teacher’s tool bag,” said Schramel.

In the Chester Learning Center’s elementary program, all groupings are “based on academic performance and social-emotional development rather than age or grade,” said Chester elementary teacher Janae LaGroue.

When groups include students that are at the same level of achievement in the subject being taught, teachers say that students are more likely to stay engaged, rather than getting bored (if their personal achievement level is higher than the class average) or frustrated (if their achievement level is lower).

In cases in which a student has mastered a higher level in one subject, said Greenville Learning Center teacher and Site Coordinator Andre Essue, instructional groupings allow the student to be placed with a more advanced group for that particular subject while remaining with his or her grade the rest of the time for social-emotional interaction.  

Instructional grouping also results in smaller groups, which enable teachers to work more closely with individual students. The groups can be fluid, changing quickly and easily based on formal and informal progress monitoring by teachers, said Cindy Thackeray, a teacher at the Quincy Learning Center.

“Flexible groupings based on strengths and needs allow for more individualized instruction,” said Thackeray. “They allow us to be more responsive to each student’s needs.”

In addition, instructional groupings “make the best use of instructional time,” said Keri Reed, lead high school teacher at the Chester Learning Center. “We are able to fit more students into our live class schedule with limited space and time.”

Essue agrees, pointing out that at his learning center, instructional groupings allow teachers to provide instruction to multiple grade levels in the same classroom, resulting in more efficient use of space as well as time.

One unexpected benefit of instructional groupings that teachers have noticed is increased diversity: because their social circles expand beyond their grade level, kids are making new and different friends.

“There is an opportunity for students of different levels to work together,” said Reed. “They have the opportunity to form relationships with students they wouldn’t normally interact with.”

Instructional groups can even help students understand each other better, said Reed. “We have students who used to be at odds and, because they have interacted in our instructional group setting, they have been able to develop friendships after working together and appreciating their differences.”

In the photo: Teacher Cindy Thackeray leads guided reading for, clockwise from front, Jaxon Rider, Jamison Barnett, Jace Moore, and Morgan Joseph. Instructional grouping at the Quincy Learning Center’s 546 Lawrence St. location involves the use of small groups designed to instruct students at their individual academic level, rather than their grade level. Photo by Ingrid Burke