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Data Driven Workshop Part 3: Equity with Flexible Grouping

What does equity mean in the classroom?

Equity within the classroom setting means that the teacher seeks to provide more attention to students who are performing below grade level than to other students who are meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations. What if your class is made up of students who are all performing below grade level? In that case, equity means providing the students who are performing in the lowest tiers more time and support.  

Equity looks like this: 

Think of it like this: each box represents a lesson that the student received from the teacher. The image on the left shows that the teacher has taught one lesson to the whole class. Each student was present for that whole class lesson. The image on the right shows that the teacher taught one lesson to the whole class (the bottom box). Then, they pulled a small group to which they invited the two students who are struggling. Those two students got lifted a little bit. Finally, the teacher felt that the student on the right  needed additional help. So, they met with that student during a conference to give them one-on-one attention.  

In reality, the boxes under the student on the right side could actually be multiple small groups and multiple one-on-one conferences. While the student on the left may only receive whole class instruction, the student on the right may have had 6-7 meaningful touchpoints with the teacher. Over the same period of time, the teacher has supported students in an equitable manner: giving the least proficient students, the most attention. 

The last two posts were about data collection and analysis. This week, I want to introduce how to let the data inform your groups, instead of letting the groups inform your instruction.  

Examine Data Daily to Identify Struggling Students for Small Groups

Every day, examine the data you collected. I don’t always plan my groups in advance. I’m a firm believer in small group work. It simplifies my life to work with several students who need the same skill, and it’s the best use of teacher time. So, I look for those small groups on my formative assessment checklist. My eyes scroll down each column, scan for those Os, and find the kids I need to group. I make lists of students' names on sticky notes along with the strategies I’ll work on with them.

Tip: If I see a lot of Os as in the example above, I think of a different strategy I could reteach the whole class for the same skill. For instance, I may have taught “I can revise the structure of my essay by grouping information from general to specific.” Maybe that strategy of “grouping from general to specific” went way above 10 of my students’ heads. So, I may teach them a different way of organizing: “I can revise the structure of my essay by ordering information from most important to least important.

Tip: I try to keep my groups to 3-4 kids, at most five. When I have a long list of kids who need my help, I look to see if some of the students are more visual or kinesthetic, and could benefit from being grouped with students of similar modalities. This helps limit my groups. A group of students who are more visual could be taught that “Writers edit by highlighting certain capitalization clues. They highlight periods and look at the word that immediately follows. They highlight “I” and all character names. They highlight names of places.” Another group that is more kinesthetic may benefit from a different editing strategy: “Writers edit by using a ruler to read line by line. They stop at periods, and look at the word that immediately follows it. They check off the word “I” and all character names if and only if they are capitalized.

Identify Who Needs the Most Strategies

Sometimes, we have students who need a lot more support. In the equity graphic above, they are represented as the child who needs the most boxes to stand at the same level as their peers. I look for those students, and see which skills they still need to master.  

If I can pair these students with a few others and create a group, I prioritize my small group work in such a way that I reteach the skills these students need first.  I start pulling one of those groups they are a part of immediately. I teach all students in that group, but I pay special attention to this one student to see if the new strategy I am teaching them is helping.  

If that student is missing 3-5 skills, I try to pull small groups that they will be a part of at least twice a week per subject area.  

Practice Flexible Grouping

Data-Driven Instruction is in some ways diametrically opposed to the concept of “blue group” “red group” or “yellow group.” It’s also diametrically opposed to “guided reading group F” and “guided reading group P.” Instead of being bucketed into a group, students are taught through strategy grouping: I’m going to teach these five kids a kinesthetic strategy for editing. So, they will be grouped together. However, I feel like one of those students could also benefit from a revision strategy on deleting repeated sentences. So, I’m going to group them with these other students. When you practice flexible groupings, you end up meeting with groups of students that cross paths during small group work. It can look a lot like this:

I hope that these last few posts helped you see how to organize your data, and make the most of it to pull students based on what they need. Meet them where they are, and be sure to identify those who need the most support so you give them that support in greater doses and with more frequency than you would for your top tier students. 

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