The gifted group. The slow group. The behavioral issues group. Grouping in schools fell out of favor partially because educators—and parents—felt like kids were getting labeled and that groupings didn’t help students improve. While not calling for a return to those rigid structures, in their edWebinar “Flexible Grouping and Collaborative Learning: Making It Work,” Dina Brulles, Ph.D., and Karen L. Brown, M.Ed., both education consultants, advocated for using groups to assist student learning. They discussed how adjusting student combinations, adapting teaching methods, and preparing students for group learning can lead to successful outcomes.
1. Base groupings on information: Use pre-tests, formatives assessments, learning styles, and even student interest surveys to divvy up the students. Align the educational needs and passions of students to make sure that students within the groups have a shared goal.
2. Keep groupings flexible: Students should not be in permanent groups with the same set of students for even a semester, much less the school year. Teachers should create groups for a specific learning goal or project and then reassess for the next lesson. This helps students avoid labels and learn to work with all of their peers.
3. Don’t assess and forget: For groupings based on ability or readiness, don’t just plop the kids together and assume they’re all set. Keep gathering data. If grouping is based on readiness to learn multiplication, for example, keep track of student progress. Based on assessments, you might find that some students need to change groups in the middle of the unit.
4. Use a variety of assessments: Not all evaluations need to be formal pencil-and-paper or computer-assisted exams. They can be as simple as talking with students and discussing where they are with the lessons. Using different methods of assessment, teachers can get a clearer picture of student mastery and abilities.