Advantages of small group instruction in special education

Small group instructionIt can be quite challenging to give all of your students the differentiated, individualized attention they need.

For many special educators, classroom rosters may span three different grades, or four different levels of students with moderate to severe disabilities. Does this sound like you?

Let’s navigate how you can use small group instruction to improve your classroom management, individualized learning opportunities, differentiated instruction, and even data collection!

How to organize and implement small groups

The options are endless when it comes to how small group instruction can be organized. Many teachers find it helpful to have semi-consistent groups based on student commonalities. This allows for differentiation and individualization between groups.

Commonalities that may determine how you structure your small groups can include:

  • Student ability: this can include grouping students together who require less support, or those who require more support
    • Students who need additional practice opportunities to maintain skills, those who need additional intervention to generalize skills
  • Skills being taught: students who are working on specific concepts or skills within a subject can be grouped together
    • Students who are working on one digit addition, or a group working on 1:1 correspondence
  • Skill deficits: grouping students together who need further instruction on specific concepts or skills
    • Students who are still struggling with the “th” sound after whole group instruction
  • Student interest: students can be grouped for generalization or extension activities based on specific interests
    • Students who are motivated by animals, or students who are motivated by food
  • Personality: students who work well together or can act as peer supports for each other can be placed together
    • A student who requires less support can help a student who requires more support within the same group.
When to incorporate small group instruction into your class schedule

By rotating small groups every 15-20 minutes, you can use small group instruction time to your advantage. Here’s how:

  • You may decide to have three small group stations running simultaneously, similar to stations
    • One group can be led by you, another group by your paraprofessional if you have one in your classroom, and possibly another group working independently
  • If you are in a resource room where students are coming and going, you may be able to utilize small group instruction while a chunk of students have left the room
    • This gives you the opportunity to run smaller, focused groups.
How does classroom management and data collection come into play?

When you’re working with a smaller number of students at a time, classroom management and data collection is simpler.

Classroom management

When it comes to classroom management, students can have the opportunity to earn extra points or tickets for prosocial behavior when they are in a small group. This could be listening to others, helping friends or raising their hand. You and your paraprofessionals can keep an eye out for prosocial behaviors within the set groups.

Data collection

For data collection in a small group, you can give students their own data collection sheet. You can provide your students with color-specific stickers to place on the sheet as you work through group time. If your students get a question correct, they can give themselves a green sticker, and if their answer is incorrect, they can utilize an orange sticker for example.

While your students are working independently, you can provide them with a laminated self-management checklist and a dry erase marker. Put simple steps that they have mastered on this checklist and have them take data on whether or not they are able to put this into an independent routine.

For example, have your students place a check mark next to each step as they complete it:

  • Step 1: Get your work folder
  • Step 2: Take work out of your folder
  • Step 3: Complete Sheet 1
  • Step 4: Put work back in your folder
  • Step 5: Put folder away

Small group instruction is an effective option to help further differentiate instruction and focus on individualized learning opportunities for students.

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