I really struggle with how kids are grouped. Some schools have gone to grouping kids for reading and/or math across a grade level. They look at all of the data on students in each classroom and group kids according to ability. Teachers come together to separate the students based on the data presented. So a teacher could have a student going in or out of the classroom with another teacher for intervention time, in or out of the classroom with another teacher for ELL time, and/or in or out of the classroom with another teacher for guided reading. This may also happen for writing and math. Some students will meet all three of the criteria so might not be with the classroom teacher due to intervention, ELL, or guided reading, which is a large part of the day. For me, this is a problem. Why?
Fluidity of instruction is a major reason to look at grouping. When you have scheduled beginning and ending times for interventions, guided reading, ELL service…, the classroom teacher loses fluidity of instruction. First, the school day has to be dictated, and teachers have no room to adjust that schedule. The teacher must begin and end at certain times in order to accommodate these groups. With all of the interventions, push-in services, etc., there is no time for the teacher to form her own schedule based on the needs of students. If a lesson requires more time on a certain day or less time, the teacher cannot adjust at that moment because of scheduled groupings.
Someone needs to know the whole child. This is difficult to do if a child is going to several teachers during the day. Some schools have set up a system where they make sure someone has meaningful interaction with students each day. But why should we have to develop a system that adds another layer when we already have in place a classroom teacher who, if allowed, works with the student throughout most of the day? One reason we assign a classroom teacher is to make sure someone is responsible for the achievement and well being of a particular set of students. It doesn’t mean classroom teachers don’t care about students not placed in their classroom. It means that these teachers make sure they know and can articulate the progress or lack of progress being made by students and why progress is occurring or not occurring. These teachers know the strengths and weaknesses of students.
When grouping children – we also have to consider how kids are grouped. I just read a concern that children that are low in reading continue to have gaps and get further behind each year they are grouped with other low students. Though progress may be made, often progress is not huge and one reason may be that the children are always with other low students. All students need on grade level instruction and instruction based on individual needs. It might help to think about “least restrictive environment” even when doing groupings. It is understandable that schools are trying to provide as many services to children as they possibly can. But shouldn’t we look at the best way to accomplish this? Moving and switching kids every which way is not in the best interest of kids. Also consider - How important is it to have a child with “regular” education students of varying abilities? If you have a child consistently placed in intervention, ESL, push-in with another instructor based on ability – when does that child get to interact with students not needing those services?
Why don’t other teachers rise up and speak against such practices? Teachers need and value support services. They fear if they are vocal against such practices support will be taken away from them. Teachers don’t want support removed. But it would be helpful to think about the best way to provide this support.
To provide support to teachers, there are a few things that could be considered. One is to limit the number of grouping switches that happen in a day. A way to do this would be to take some support teachers that were used for groupings and give them a regular classroom. This would help classroom teachers by lowering class sizes. The intervention then would be lower class size and teacher to student ratio. Teachers in a school with lots of English Learners would all be trained in ELL strategies. That way they would all be classified as ELL teachers. You could still have some teachers that are support and provide pull-out or push-in services for those with the most need.
Another consideration might be to stagger the support teacher day. Students needing services such as ELL or intervention or push-in services could begin the school day earlier or later than other students. The support teachers providing those services would have different start and end times than “regular” education teachers. Interventionists or ELL services or any service varying from “regular” education could then provide necessary instruction. For example, the regular student day might be 9:00 to 3:30. Some support teachers would work from 8:30 to 3:00, providing support from 8:30 – 9:00. Some might work 9:30 – 4:00, providing support from 3:30 – 4:00. The school could decide times… This would allow teachers flexibility and fluidity of instruction. Intervention teachers could still provide support during the school day, but movement between classrooms would be kept to a minimum. Summer school would also be a way to provide continued support.
Another possibility is that you could assign support teachers to grade levels. One or two support staff could be responsible for a particular grade level team and would only service that grade level. The grade level teachers could then agree on times when those support teachers would be in each classroom to “team” teach or hold groups.
Teachers want support services – so how can support services be structured in the best way possible to meet student needs? If teachers are allowed to brain storm, and a bottom-up culture exists – you might be surprised what ideas could be generated. It would also be important to check on grouping changes to see if any adjustments or tweaks should be made. Allow teachers voice and creative thinking to solve problems. AND consider - does every grade level support structure need to look the same? Kindergarten may look different than 5th grade. Just some things to think about.