Friday, July 27, 2012

Flexing your differentiating muscles!

What's one way you can tell if you're a STRONG differentiating instructor? FLEXible groupings!

Often there is a misunderstanding among some teachers (no one here of course) that if they have students in groups, they are utilizing flexible groupings.  This is not necessarily accurate.  In fact, there are many teachers (none here of course) that are under the impression that the goal of flexible groupings is to make instruction easier for teachers by grouping students strictly by ability.


The GOAL of flexible groupings is to provide students with MANY different kinds of opportunities to interact with other students in meaningful ways while they all are working towards meeting their learning goals.




In all honesty, flexible groupings are probably one of the easiest ways to begin initiating differentiated instructional strategies in a classroom.  The question is, what does it look like, how do you organize it and how does it work.  I don't think it looks the same in any two classrooms, and it doesn't look the same in lower elementary as it does in upper elementary or even high school and college (yes, we should be using flexible groupings even in those upper levels).

As with anything, it has to work for you.

In my class, there are pocket charts (I love, love, love those little $1.00 Target pocket charts), laminated magnetic cards and even MORE pocket charts to indicate different cooperative groupings. 



 I divide my literacy groups by learning style and readiness by using animal groups.  Because they are on magnets, I can move students around from group to group as often as I want depending the skills we will be addressing or as a result of ongoing assessing.  My students are very good about looking up at the board to see what animal they are on any given day because it changes quite often.



Literacy Groups Based on Readiness, Learning Styles and Cooperation


Math Stations Grouped by Readiness and Learning Styles

Math Stations are separated by color and groups of four.  Within those groups they work as pairs.  I have the WORLDS SMALLEST kindergarten classroom.  It was clear 12 math stations for 24 students just wasn't going to happen for me, so this system works out well.  These groups change about every three weeks and they are based on readiness and learning styles as well.  The cards are coded by color to indicate different activities that students utilize from their station based on their readiness.  So orange students may have different activities than a green student and so on.  These cards are laminated to that I can move students around and change their color based on pre and on-going assessment of skills.



Calendar Partners Grouped By Interest and Cooperative Learning Styles

Calendar partners are changed every month.  We utilize calendar books and I found that by having students work in partners, they are able to help each other out rather than walking around myself and checking every child for understanding.  Partners are determined based on interest and cooperative learning styles.



Learning Center Groups Based on Multiple Intelligences and Learning Styles

Learning Centers have students in groups of three.  These groups change about every two weeks and are based on learning styles and multiple intelligences.  Although about half of these stations are tiered, the groupings for these stations are NOT based on readiness.

The goal of flexible grouping is to provide lots of different kinds of opportunities for students to work in meaningful ways with other students who are not necessarily like themselves. I, myself, can't imagine my groupings working any other way, but I would love to hear what other teachers do.  I'm always looking for new ways to organize and streamline my groups. Drop me a comment to let me know if you're 'flexible.'






14 comments:

  1. Thank you for the insight and ideas. I will use several of these ideas in my K classroom this year. You are awesome!

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    1. Thanks Suzanne. I hope you check back for other great posts from my teacher blogger friends!
      Marsha
      A Differentiated Kindergarten

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  2. I am glad to see your thoughts on this -- I have often been guilty of assigning groups by ability and ignoring all the rest. I'm getting better -- especially used real flexible grouping in math last year -- but I want to do better this year. Thanks for the reminder about what flexible grouping really means.

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    1. Thanks Ann, good luck in expanding your flexible grouping. I'll be anxious to see how it goes for you.
      Marsha
      A Differentiated Kindergarten

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  3. Love the animal groupings at the top. Question: Do you have an assistant during small group? And, is there a visual that indicates which group is theirs? (My district wants a visual for everything...in case someone walks into the room to observe what we are doing.) They would want to know who I was seeing and which group my assistant would be seeing without stopping us to ask. Also, are all of your pocket chart-flexible posted around the room? I teach K and am wondering how your children learn which chart to use to assist them with where they should be at any given time. Thank-you. Caryl
    thezoocrewteacher@yahoo.com

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    1. Caryl, I sometimes have an aide for the literacy portion of my day. I don't have a visual signal to show who is where. I've never heard that requirement. I would think that it would be more of a concern that the students know where they are suppose to be. I kind of like it when administrators come in and talk to students and ask them what their doing. If my students can explain what they are doing then they generally know what the learning goal is at that moment.

      My pocket charts are placed on two different ends of my room. Amazingly, it takes them until about the end of the first week to figure out which chart is for which activity. Of course, until they figure it out, we model, model, model. For those students that might struggle, I will give them a buddy to help them out. It really doesn't take that long though.

      Thanks for your interest in flexible groupings. I'm anxious to see how it goes for you.
      Marsha
      A Differentiated Kindergarten

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  4. Oh my gosh, I AM IN LOVE WITH THIS BLOG!!!! I love that you have four teachers contributing to sharing about differentiated instruction. I just graduated with my master's degree (and will be teaching second grade this fall!) and read Carol Ann Tomlinson's book for a DI course. I am in the process of planning on how to implement flexible grouping during reading, writing, and math and find this particular post so helpful!! Thank you!!!!!

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    1. Yes! Carol Ann Tomlinson is THE differentiated instruction guru. She is wonerful isn't she. I hope you'll stop back and check out all the other posts and great teachers we have contributing.
      Marsha
      A Differentiated Kindergarten

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    2. I am back! I want to follow you but my Google Reader is acting up but nonetheless, I've nominated your blog for an award! Visit my blog to pick it up. :)


      Alex

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  5. Your blog is so interesting and helpful ! I was answering myself how I could act to have a real dfferentiated strategy this year but the organization wasn't easy.I had 4 color groups ( of 6 pupils)but they were always the same during half of the year .I tried several times to change the groups but the children weren't independent.I teach in french pre-k ( 2 /3 year olds)and I think your boards are a very good way to help them to become independent.Hope you'll understand my broken English :)

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    1. Virginia, perhaps instead of just their names, you could use their picture with their names for groupings. Then label your groups with colors and the materials' basket/tote or room area in that same color.

      Your English is GREAT. I wonder where you are teaching.
      Marsha
      A Differentiated Kindergarten

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  6. Marsha thank you for sharing your flexible grouping. Last year I tried to use this method but truly only felt comfortable based on their ability. I feel I use more flexible grouping in the beginning of the year and then it gets less flexible as the year goes on because of the huge gaps between the children. 95% of my class is ELL so the gaps become very large by the middle of the year. I am going to work on getting better at this now that you have shown a variety of ways. Thanks

    Please follow me at my newly designed blog http//kindnesscountsinkindergarten.blogsot.com

    I look forward to more posts on differentiated instruction

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  7. $1 pocket charts?!?! Where? How can I get in on that.

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