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The Sacredness of Small-Group Instruction

Monday, October 21, 2019 by Kourtney Bradshaw-Clay

Higher Powered Learning Blog

As an educator, small-group instruction time was always sacred.

Students knew there had to be an emergency if they interrupted my dedicated time with a small group of their peers. My students valued the intimate time they got to spend with me, and I treasured the opportunity to know my students better as learners and as people. To make the time most effective, I tailored my small-group instruction to the needs of my students. 

For the next few weeks, we will focus on formats that have produced effective small-group instruction. 

Fill the Tetris Gaps

This week, we will start with remediation. Fr. Nate Wills,CSC, often compares blended learning to a game of Tetris. In this analogy, he says that blended learning allows educators to fill in the “Tetris gaps” by:

    1. Using adaptive software programs to identify the gaps in student learning.
    2. Using personalized instruction to fill in those learning gaps. 

When using remediation to “fill in the Tetris gaps,” it is essential to have a clear objective during your small-group instruction.

Start Strong with Objectives

Your objective is your road map for the lesson. A clear objective tells your students where they need to go by the end of the lesson. A good source for lesson-objective writing is Todd McKee, who lends his expertise in Teach Like a Champion. He defines “The 4 Ms” when writing clear objectives - Manageable, Measurable, Made First, and Most Important.  


Questions to Ask Yourself

Manageable objectives are small enough to cover in one lesson but significant enough for students to use immediately.

  • Can you teach the objective in a single lesson? 
  • Can you structure your lesson so students will have the necessary tools to practice the objective independently?

Measurable objectives allow you to measure students’ progress toward mastery reasonably.

  • What assessment can you give students at the end of the lesson?
  • Will you be able to quickly and reasonably give feedback to students?

Made First objectives are written before any other teaching activities are planned.

  • What learning activities align well with my objective?

Most Important objectives are written to address the highest leverage skill students are missing.

  • What skills do my students need most to reach their goals?
  • Why is this skill most important for students to reach their goals?

Implementing the Lesson

After identifying your objective, use the “I do, you do, we do” model for instructing your students. Let’s break down what this model looks like:

I Do - Model how to use the strategy or skill.

For example, in one of our partner schools, we witnessed a teacher showing her students how to draw inferences from pictures. She showed her students a picture of two boys watching a scary movie at a theater. She walked her students through the steps of finding “clues” to infer the kind of movie the boys were watching.

We Do - Practice the strategy or skill with the students.

During the lesson of making inferences from pictures, we watched as the teacher joined the students in making inferences about an image. The next picture showed a family cooking together. The teacher asked the students questions about what was happening in the image and prompted students to use the previously modeled steps, to find “clues” in the picture to make an inference.

You Do - Release the students to practice the skill independently.

Finally, the teacher monitored students as they independently practiced the steps of finding “clues” in a picture to make an inference. She checked in with individual students about their steps to ensure they were understanding and applying the lesson objective correctly.

Closing Out The Lesson

Over the past few weeks we have seen exceptional small-group instruction, and the time at the end of the lesson is arguably the most critical. When you close out the lesson, leave students with an action item to continue their learning independently. It is best to connect the end of the lesson to a related independent or partner activity. Neural research shows that reinforcing a skill causes our brain to create and strengthen “neural pathways,” which lead to lasting memory. It is valuable for students to follow small-group remediation lessons with meaningful practice they can complete independently or with a partner.

Remediation is one of many ways to teach small-group lessons. In the next few weeks, we will focus on various small-group instruction models. Subscribe to our blog for more features on our other models.  

Do you use remediation as one of your small-group models? Which other models do you think we should include in our small-group instruction features? Leave us a note in the comments below.

About the Author

Kourtney Bradshaw-Clay

Kourtney Bradshaw-Clay

Kourtney is a native of North Carolina and attended UNC for her undergrad and then moved to Baltimore to teach and attain her M.Ed. Most recently, Kourtney comes to us after teaching K-2 at KIPP One in Chicago where she has been using blended-learning methods for several years.

Along with her hard-working approach and a history of innovative tech usage for differentiation in her classroom, Kourtney brings a lower-elementary educational expertise to our HPL team.