Conducting short targeted interventions and using the right assessments to form groups will ensure greater differentiation in the classroom, says leading educator Rob Vingerhoets.
Joining literacy experts Phil and Sharon Callen on Episode 54 of The Teacher’s Tool Kit for Literacy, Rob said grouping within the classroom must be done correctly to maximise learning opportunities.
The trio talked about their belief that while grouping student based on their capabilities and understanding may be useful, it also takes away the benefits of keeping the classroom together.
“It’s the wrong modelling. If you take out every good kid or every capable kid out of your group, what have you got? Who are you picking up your clues, strategies and language from? Your role models are gone and the pairs of kids learning together,” Rob said.
Phil added: “One of the seven Timeless T’s of Literacy is ‘Together’, which means we keep the kids together as a whole class. So you can have flexible grouping within that, but there is so much learning that is going on from each other that is so powerful. I mean, this is the missing piece.”
If educators do decide to form groups in the classroom, Sharon and Rob expanded on the importance of using the right tests and information to determine those decisions.
“Tests can weight against kids because of different aspects and layers that make it difficult for them. So you may have highly capable kids, but on the basis of one test, they’re lobbed into a group, and that is educational meanness,” Rob said.
Sharon added: “When students are grouped in literacy, sometimes big, high stakes tests are used as the way to make those decisions. But let’s say we’ve grouped them against the NAPLAN reading scores or their reading achievement. When we break that down and we have to look at what the NAPLAN was assessing, it wasn’t actually telling us what a student is doing as they are reading, and yet that is what my teaching is about. So I want to find out what they are doing as they’re reading to be able to help them.”
When it comes to targeted interventions and addressing any literacy struggles, the trio explained that separating the impacted children for a short period of time is most effective.
“Targeted interventions is us on our feet. It’s what we notice and what we offer children. It’s how we intervene at the time on the spot in the classroom,” Sharon said.
“Sometimes I think that term ‘intervention’ feels like we’ve got to take them out for a whole big thing and remove them from what everyone’s doing. But that’s separating them from the vital learning that’s going on in the classroom.
“So I might have a small, flexible focus group that needs a bit of help, and I might do three days in a row with them for five minutes on each of those days.”
Rob also suggested using samples of work to determine these target groups.
“Because I don’t often get around to every kid, depending on the task, I’ll collect samples of work and see who I have to follow up with in tomorrow’s session. So I may start the next lesson with a group of four or five kids who I need to do some work with, and then I’ll send them off,” he said.
How ever students are separated, Rob reiterated that there will be a spread in knowledge regardless and therefore teachers should be aware of this differentiation.
“If you split children into three groups, you’ve still got a four year spread in your top group and in your middle group. And you’ve still got a four year spread or probably more in your bottom group,” he said.
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