You have taught the mini-lesson. Now what? You know that instruction does not end there. In fact, a lot of the strong teaching work happens in either one-on-one conferences or small group instruction. But how do you design small group writing instruction that is relevant, effective and doable? With toolkits…it is ALL in the toolkints.
After attending a summer workshop on small group writing instruction (you can read more on that here), my believes and practice about teaching writing really evolved. So, here is how it works. You would teach your mini-lesson as usual, but once your students are dismissed to work independently, your work with small groups really starts. To effectively use everyone’s time, you must be prepared. Here is where the toolkits come in REALLY handy.
- I start every writing unit with an on-demand. This assessment gives me a good overall snapshot of where my students are, what they know and what they really need. So – ADMINISTER an on-demand (you will use it)
- After I administer the on-demand, I quickly scan the writing my students produced in those 45 minutes to get a good idea of what most students can do and what are some strong deficiencies
- I then look closely at the learning progression for the unit. I use Writing Pathways to see what my students need to know. Seeing this progression is extremely helpful – you will see how students may be able to do some things at/above grade level, but maybe some skills are still below grade level
- Using sticky notes, I mark the places I may need to focus for the unit (some things I may be able to address whole group and others I will target through strategic differentiation)
- The skills I choose to teach (or re-teach) in small groups can vary, but this progression gives you great ideas
- After I choose the skills, I usually create a below grade level, at grade level and above grade level chart to model what I want my students to know/learn. In other words, I create a few mini-anchor charts to support my instruction. These visuals are SO VALUABLE – students can refer to them as often as needed (I make copies for them to keep inside their writing journals)
- After I create a few charts to address the needs of my students, I start to officially form the flexible groups. And yes! I called them flexible groups because students are moved in-out as needed. It may look like:
- Group 1-Elaboration High (Mark, Lorena, Pete, Jackie*)
- Group 2-Elaboration Mid (Jackson, Miriam, Xavier, Luke)
- Group 3-Craft Mid (Juan, Marvin, Elena, Lola)
- Group 4-Craft Low (and so on)
- I usually try to stay under 5 groups to make it more manageable so I do not go crazy
- So, back to the classroom. I deliver the mini-lesson, do a quick scan of the room (make sure everyone is settled and writing), and then call on the groups. I meet with them for 5-6 minutes and move on to the next. I usually meet with 2 groups and then do a one-on-one conference or check-in conference
- As the unit progresses and my students write, I constantly assess. My observations will guide the content of my upcoming small-group lessons
It is an ongoing process. But the key is to have the kit/set of charts ready and your groups formed. You will be amazed at how much you can achieve by meeting with students in small groups (instead of all one-on-one). Using this system, I meet with students twice a week (in most cases).
I would love to know how you plan small groups and prepare your toolkits. Please leaver your comments below.
*All the names in the group examples are fictitious.