When you’re differentiating, running multiple groups in one class is a pretty essential skill. It’s one that you can only develop by trying, yet most teachers seem afraid to take that first step.
Here’s a guide based on my own experience, but the only way you’ll get better is by doing it yourself.
See It In Action
The best way to get a handle on what this looks like is to close your computer and walk to a classroom that already has a differentiated practice in place. No one at your school runs multiple groups? Ask your administrator to let you visit another school and watch it? They won’t let you? Take a darn sick day then! Seriously, this is essential. Watching an experienced teacher in action will answer way more questions than reading about it will.
Onto my own experience!
Begin With Pre-Assessment
If a student can already score above 90% on material that you have not instructed, it’s fair to say that they do not need your instruction! So, you need to be pre-assessing. Benefits of pre-assessment:
- Students who already know material are allowed to work on challenging, independent projects.
- On-level students receive instruction in a smaller group.
- Everyone works at their level, reducing behavior problems and boredom while increasing learning.
My System: Three Groups
Using my pre-assessment data, I created three math groups:
- Group 1: Took a pre-assessment and scored over 90%. Size: usually one to three students.
- Group 2: Took the pre-assessment and scored between 80-89%. Size: usually up to five students.
- Group 3: Either did not take the pre-assessment or scored below 80%. Size: the bulk of the class.
Use as much of your base program as possible. Our math program comes with two sets of chapter and unit tests: a free response and a multiple-choice version. Since we use the multiple-choice as a post-assessment, the free-response sits all alone in the assessment folder. I use this as my pre-assessment.
- Students choose whether they will take the pre-assessment (if they aren’t motivated enough to do this, they won’t be motivated enough to complete an independent project).
- Must achieve 90% or higher (this usually means they can miss up to two problems)
- Students must use the open response test, not multiple-choice (they’re too good at guessing when there are choices).
- Students must complete an independent project of high quality (or forfeit the privileged to pretest for the next two chapters).
Honestly, I still have not found an optimal time to give the pre-assessment. I’ve done it during recess (bad because kids have to give up their time and twenty minutes is too quick for some of these tests). I’ve also done it right after the previous chapter’s post-assessment (bad because they just finished a test and may be math-fatigued). Please leave your ideas about how to improve this in the comments.
This group contains the students who always try the pre-test and never quite make it. They’re constantly in the B range. I feel like this is still pretty impressive, so I created a third group. This group completes the daily work but is free to begin the work while I am teaching.
- Must achieve between 80%-89% on the open-ended pre-assessment.
- Must complete daily homework and quizzes.
- May begin homework during the lesson, not required to be present for my instruction.
- Must retake the chapter’s test.
- Since these students usually finish their work early, they work on an extension menu related to the unit.
How To Create Assignments
This is the most difficult part of the program: creating projects for compact groups. I try to make these authentic activities in which students apply content to interesting problems. It may also be useful to integrate the [depth and complexity tools]. I always try to incorporate a construction element that can be made more or less complex depending on how long the unit takes for the rest of the class. Again, dig into your math program for some starting points. Here are some sample projects I’ve created.
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