Problem 4: I am struggling to assess in small groups!
This is my last and final post in the Small Group series! We have come to assessing, probably one of the more confusing and frustrating aspects of small group planning! I will admit here and now that I still have not mastered this aspect of small groups, although I felt I did a slightly better job with it in math than I did for reading. Assessing reading in small groups can be daunting, as there are so many skills under the umbrella of reading, a teacher can have a hard time knowing where to start.
p.s. If you want the "stuff" it's at the end of the post 😉
When should I assess?
Think back to the very first post in the series, and notice that it started with an assessment component as well. Imagine you have worked with your kids in small groups on the skills you assessed, and four to six weeks have passed and you feel that A) It's time to move on or B) You think a majority of the students in their groups are grasping this skill, but you need to make sure.
That is exactly what you will assess again. This is the part that can seem confusing, because Small Group is a response intervention. It can be connected to what students are learning whole group, but more often than not we are filling gaps in small group, so it seems disconnected and piece-meal, and therefore it seems wrong somehow to assess something so wildly different from what the entire class is working on.
Who should be assessed?
Ideally you should assess all groups on the main skill they have been working on so you can close the circle on this skill and start on another skill. You will also have to opportunity to shuffle your groups around for this new skill. Any student who hasn't mastered what you've been teaching needs to stay in the group (or be reordered into a different group with other students who also didn't master it) and new groups need to be formed for students who did master their skills and are ready for something new.
This would be considered your summative assessment, and it would be wise to hang on to this data in order to inform any meetings you have about students and their progress. You will now be able to clearly state that you worked with these students three times a week on R.L.2.1 using who, what, when, where, why, and how questions, and after four weeks little Bono was able to read a passage and create five out of five questions and answer them correctly. Very powerful data to have!
How should I assess?
The scenario I described is excellent when gathering data for many students at once. This is summative data that sums up what each group knows after the intervention.
However, many times in small group students will be reading or doing math and you realize that all five student just made the same math error or got stuck on the same word. You mark it down on your small group notes. You have taken a formative assessment, or an assessment in the moment. This is an added wrinkle to the whole assessment game, because you may be able to correct that right there in the moment and all your students understand and will improve from there. No other assessments needed.
Or, they may give you a deer in the headlights look and then you realize you stumbled upon a gap that all the students share. You can either decide to roll it into what they've been learning, or decide to finish the skill for this session and start on this gap on the next session.
What should I use to assess?
This depends on what you used to initially screen your students and if you have any ideas for what to work on next. If you were working on multiplication tables or phonics and you used a CORE screener for the phonics and a simple times table for the math, it's a safe bet you can re-use this screener as a post-assessment to see how they improved.
If you are doing something a little more in depth, say one step word problems with addition and no regrouping, I don't see anything wrong with using the same screener, but maybe this time you may want to add on another step in the word problem (still using addition and no regrouping) and see how they do. Maybe for the reading if you were working on R.L.2.1, give them a second passage that is a little more rigorous and see what happens. This will help you assess how deep their knowledge went, and if they can make other connections to something similar. You can also combine a post-assess with a pre-assess to inform instruction for the next session.
In general, try to use the same assessment that you used when you first screened them so you can have a true measure of how they progressed, or use something very similar. This will help put less work on you as well, because now you can just keep a stack of fresh assessments ready to go.
I assessed and now I have a group with one student, and a big group with eight, help!
This is normal and happens a lot! You may need to assess the big group again with something a little more in depth to see what differences between the groups you can find. Ideally you want each group to be like one student, no one should be higher or lower on the scale, but we all know that in the real world things don't always work out that way.
As to the group with one, I suggest leaving it that way. You will be amazed at how much you can get done with just one student, and how quickly, and before it's time to assess again they may be ready to move to another group!
My formative group notes are all over the place, this system isn't working!
I absolutely hear you, and this was my personal roadblock for a long time.
First I kept a binder of each group with little post its. I used it for two weeks and then stopped. Then I tried just using a plain Google Doc for each group, but it got messy really quickly. I tried many systems, and paper or digital I didn't seem to matter, making notes was impossible! How was I supposed to keep notes on every student everyday that I worked with them? I just didn't have enough minutes in between each group to stop and take the kind of notes I wanted.
However, I'm not everyone. Many of my colleagues keep successful notes in binders, many made Google Doc work. So, I'll tell you what I do, and then I'll describe what some of my colleagues do and let you try some out! It's all about finding a system that works FOR YOU!
Alison, from Learning at the Primary Pond, did an in-depth post about the GRO Small Group App. I have not personally tried it because my districts iPad wouldn't let me download it (😭) but I really want to try it! Be sure to check out her post here and the app website here. I believe you can use for reading or math, but I am not sure.
Then there's my way, I shared a picture of this in Part 2 I believe. Now, this is not my original idea and I've scoured the internet trying to find the original post I came across five years ago, but of course I can't. Just know the idea isn't mine!
Anywho! The idea is to create a Google Doc with a table of all your kids. Then create a separate document for each student with a table in the document for the date and notes. Take the link from each student's own Google Doc and hyperlink it to their name on the original table of all the students. That way you can have the original Doc up, click on the name to open their page, and take your notes. This is what I currently do now, and I update it once a week, usually on Fridays. That way I have a record of every skill every student has ever worked on and their progress for the whole year.
You can also see that I link other things for their lessons, standards, skills etc. This is easily adapted for reading or math! This is my Holy Grail right now! If you want a tutorial on how to set this up you can comment below or on my IG for this post!
If you're a paper and pencil kinda person, then I have two methods for you to try. The first is from one of my all-time favorite teacher bloggers, Michael from The Thinker Builder. I have used many of his resources, and they have never let me down! This post on tracking readers could easily be adapted for math as well. He has many versions of this resource he created, for tracking individual students, and tracking groups. Be sure to check out his post here.
The last resource I have is a freebie from Jennifer Findley, and is probably one of the simplest methods I have seen. If you're not sure where to start, you have nothing to lose starting here because she is giving this resource away, and it is an amazingly simple system! This worked for me for a long time before I decided to jump to digital, and I still use her simple layout of Date and Notes. Be sure to check out her post here, and grab your freebie!
The last resource I have is an idea I got from LaTawnya of SmartieStyle. I remember awhile back she posted on her Instagram that she was getting a special planner from Erin Condren just for small group planning and anecdotal notes. I mean, who wouldn't love a gorgeous planner just for small group? You can find the different planners here.
How organize your reading groups; Michael Friermood The Thinker Builder
Guided math set up and organization, Tina's Teaching Treasures
Thanks for all your support for my Small Group Series and I hope you found it helpful! 😁
Problem 2: What should my students be doing while I am teaching a small group?
The basic answer I have for this is that there is no "wrong" thing students should be doing while you are teaching, as long as they are engaged in assignments with purpose. Children know when they are being given seat work that will never be looked at or graded or count toward anything, and they will quickly grow bored and resentful about this.
So, what constitutes "assignments with purpose?" This will depend entirely on your class. Think carefully about the skills you want your students to know and learn by the end of the year, or the trimester, or the quarter. This will also depend on the age and independence of your students. I am firm believer than students can do approximately 100% than we think they can do, and its mostly adults not being patient enough or clear enough with our expectations. So, let's start there!
Small Group Expectations: Modeling & Positive Praise Are Key
Never assume students know what to do during guided reading or math. Also, never assume that even with clear directions it will turn out the way you want the first time. Model, model, model. Even with 5th graders I will introduce one task at a time and spend 10 minutes modeling moving around the room narrating what I am doing. Then I let them try, and if it's not what I want I will stop and give positive praise about what they did do correct, and adjust by modeling what to improve and we try again. I do this daily for about a month, slowly introducing new assignments, starting with the simplest ones and ending with the hardest ones (technology and book club.)
While you are doing this I highly suggest you do not teach during this time, just watch and monitor. At some point you'll be left with one or two students who need adjustment and that's when you can coach them on procedures one-on-one, or assign them a buddy to help.
What are some meaningful assignments I can give?
For small group reading I generally stick to Word Study, Writing, Technology, Book Club, Silent Reading, Independent Reading Comprehension, and I do a Must Do/May Do system where students have two weeks to finish their assignments. This system worked for 2nd, 3rd, and the 5th graders I teach now.
For small group math I did a rotation system, where students moved through Teacher Time, Technology, Problem Set, and Skill Drill. Groups were decided based on their exit tickets the day before. Rotations were about 15-20 minutes each. Skill Drill was the station I changed every month to two months based on what we were working on at the time.
Word Study: At the beginning of the year I use spiral journals and glue a nine choice menu of word study assignments onto the front cover. During the first two weeks of school I teach one activity to the whole class each day. Assignments include 5 Clues, Spelling Grid, Add It Up, Vocabulary Sort, Flash Cards, Short Story, Picture It, ABC Order, and Greek/Latin Roots. In a two week period students need to finish two activities that I star in their journals and check off its completion. Words come from the glossary of their weekly book (see Independent Reading Comprehension), and they can add any interesting words to my living word wall any time.
Writing: This station usually turns into "finish whatever we worked on today during Writing," thus allowing students to keep themselves accountable and develop an intrinsic motivation to take advantage of the time given to work on something they care about. Another idea would be to use Michael Friermood's Keep It Fresh Writing Centers.
Technology: When I had only six computers for my class I had a whole rotation system for students to work their way through each week, but now that I have more computers I can use more tools and get more students on at one time to target the skills the need. Here is a list of my favorite technology sites for reading and math:
There are a ton more tools out there that I haven't gotten a chance to use and vet, but these have been my go-to for five years and have shown great results in my classroom.
Book Club: Once every week or so I meet with students to discuss a book we a re reading together. I assign their work in Google Classroom over a shared Google Slide. They love it, and we have a great time discussing literary elements in depth and had made a bigger difference in their comprehension than any lesson I could create.
Silent Reading: Students have a full 30 minutes everyday during guided reading to enjoy a book of their choice. They can read independently or with a partner. I don't use logs or reading reports, I don't restrict what books they can read or level my library. They can read books, menus, maps, comics, ebooks, do Readtheory.
Independent Reading Comprehension: This is probably the only worksheet type assignment I give, but I give it because I can use it to track real growth over any given period of time. I print leveled books from Reading A-Z and I also print all the supplemental skill drills, quizzes, and vocabulary work (from Vocabulary A-Z) to go with it and create a packet. This packet is due completed in a two week period, where I check off on its completion and take notes on skills that they struggled on to inform my lessons during small group time. They then take the book home to add to their library at home.
Skill Drill: For math I purchase many things from TPT, but once I found Math Tech Connections I stopped using anyone else's resources. Her stuff is so good, simple, and reusable, it was a no-brainer. I even got a grant to laminate her 2nd, 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade sorts into reusable puzzles with velcro. The main thing I love about her stuff is I could pick standards for any grade level and do skill drill with all my groups no matter what their level. I also recommend her Tri-Folds, Math Games, and any of her digital products (Google Classroom compatible!).
Part 3: Must Do/May Do versus Rotation
The holidays can be a time of joy and celebration, but for many students it can be a time of awkwardness and exclusion. Imagine being a student who isn't Christian and doesn't celebrate Christmas having an Elf on the Shelf in their classroom. Imagine being a student who isn't allowed to participate in holiday activities coming in and seeing Christmas decor and having to skirt around holiday activities for the next month.
I am choosing to write about this now for two reasons: I am seeing a lot of Elf on the Shelf, Christmas trees, and Santa's popping up on my Instagram feed from classrooms all over the US; and that I am not a Christian and I do not celebrate any holidays during this time of year. I become acutely aware of how our students may be feeling during this time of year, because I felt the same way when I was a child and did not have the mature language skills I needed to express my feelings to my teacher. I always felt that "This is the way it is, and it isn't changing."
Last year I had a student who was a practicing Jehovah's Witness. During Meet the Teacher Night her mother was very concerned about holidays, but seemed apologetic when speaking to me about her concerns. I told her not to worry, that I rarely celebrated any holidays in my classroom, and I would run any planned activities by her. In October, we celebrated Fall. When Halloween rolled around we continued with lessons as usual. During November I taught my normal historically accurate history with articles from Newsela. During December we worked on Compliment Presents and Joy Books, both from The Thinker Builder blog. Our party was also a "Hard Work Celebration" rather than a Christmas party. In February we celebrated love rather than Saint Valentine, and I gave out non-Valentine activities. At the end of the year my student and her mother thanked me for being inclusive. My student told me every year during Halloween, December, and Valentine's Day she had to leave her other classrooms because her past teachers hadn't been inclusive.
I understand that if you are Christian being disappointed or even angry about the thought of not being able to share the joy of the season with your students, but that is NOT what I am suggesting at all! Let's discuss some alternatives to celebrating the season with your students in a way that is inclusive and fun for all!
Thank you for opening your minds and hearts to our students, and working towards being the best educators we can!
This week flew by, and I knew it would! I am so glad I spent the three day weekend resting up and planning. I knew teaching a 2/3 split class would be a challenge, and I am enjoying the challenge. So far most things have been staying the same like Guided Reading, Science, and Writing. But some things will need to change soon.
I am figuring out how to teach two different curriculum topics to two different grade levels while still respecting the different learning paces of my students. I have higher achieving 2nd graders, and lower achieving 3rd graders. This upcoming week I think I am going to play around with Pear Deck, which allows you to project your lessons onto the devices of your students and engage them with interactive real time questions, scenarios, writing, drawing, and voting. This is a subscription based tool, but they have a limited free version available.
For writing I will probably be diving deeper into Michael Friermood's Keep It Fresh! Writing Bundles. If you haven't checked out Michael's stuff or his blog you definitely should. His products are amazing. In my video I mention an end of year activity we did called an Inspirational Quote Quilt. Not only did my kiddos have a blast making it last year, but it served as a great community builder for this year!
I also mention that I have been using Mystery Science. I absolutely LOVE this program! It gives you the option when you first sign up to do your state's science standard or to follow the NGSS. I chose the NGSS and it has been working out really well for me, especially because they were really confusing to me when I first looked at them over summer!
Lastly, I did end up going to Old Navy on Sunday, but I didn't end up buying anything. I tried on some Pixie Pants (my favorite work pant) to check out some different colors. Their sale right now is an extra 20% off online and in store with their website coupon. Site wide select styles of pants are already marked down 40%. If you are not a subscriber I would highly recommend signing up, they will give you 30% off right away. If you don't like a slim pant I would go with the Harper style (it needs an ironed crease to look super chic though, and they can stretch out, so be careful of the size you choose.) I will be waiting for Old Navy to release their Fall Pixie colors before purchasing more pants or tops for now.
How was your short week? Anything interesting or fun happen over the weekend?
I'm Mae and I am an instructional Coach, 5th Grade ELA teacher, and Thinking Maps trained.