Between the many different labels, levels, and tiers we have in education, differentiation can be so overwhelming for teachers! The majority of students need support and guidance from their teacher(s), but this can be so hard to do when there are many students in the classroom. Hearing your name shouted again and again can make for a headache-induced, stress-filled kind of day.
Differentiated Instruction to the Rescue!
You need a plan! Something with structure and routine! Therefore, exploring different ways to make differentiation work in your classroom is key! For example, making differentiation work with flex groups can help create the calm, focused classroom of your dreams. By using phonics puzzles or math games in flex groups, you will ensure every student is receiving high-quality instruction and the targeted practice they need.
Flex Group Examples
When setting up flex groups, plan to have 3 to 4 groups of students. By doing this, your groups are not too small or too big. Additionally, there will be enough room to spread the groups out in the classroom in order to keep them a bit separated. This will be important to keep students on task and avoid unnecessary distractions. When planning the groups, examine assessment data from formative assessments including DIBELS, pre/post tests, math computation, quizzes, etc. Use this data to put together groups of students who are at similar learning levels. This allows you to provide targeted instruction specific to that group’s needs.
What Flex Groups Aren't
Flex groups are not stations or centers. Every group will not be doing the same activity. Let me say that again. EVERY group will not be working on the EXACT same activity, skill, etc. Now there are some practices that you can put into place where your planning will be easier, but your class roster is most likely heterogenous. This means that you have a class full of students of mixed ability levels. Not every kid is at the same level of learning, so your flex groups will each look a little different. Remember, differentiate through the content, process, or product. That statement basically means you can change what you’re teaching, how you’re teaching it, or what the students are doing with what you’re teaching in order to differentiate their learning.
Group 1: Teacher Group
In any differentiated instruction, there will be a teacher-based group to provide small-group help. Additionally, this is where a focus skill or power standard can be targeted. Thus, the teacher group is where the real magic happens with the best opportunity for differentiation! Here, instructional activities are planned within the zone of proximal development. By doing this, students are learning with just the right amount of rigor. Therefore, students are doing what can be done without support in a different group. In this group, students are learning what they can understand with help but not becoming too challenging where the material is too hard to learn. Thus, all groups have different lessons planned based on their skillset. Check out this list of 9 must-have items for all teachers!
Group 2: Computer Group
Technology is so important to include since we live in a tech-filled world. To accommodate students’ love of technology, there will be a computer group where commercially available programs can be used to differentiate. For example, iReady, Study Island, IXL, Math Seeds, Reading Eggs, and Reflex Math are all great tools to use. Additionally, math computer programs are great for basic fact practice, which is so important to know!
P.S. If you don’t have a school-adopted commercial program that you’re to use in this group, check out Google’s suite of apps for education. From Google Slides to Google Forms, the possibilities are practically limitless. Your school can set up Google accounts for teachers and students. You can then use Google Classroom for literally almost anything digital. There are tons of apps and programs that integrate seamlessly with Google Classroom. These Google Slides Digital Phonics Lessons are perfect for tons of great phonics practice.
Group 3 and 4: Independent Group
In this group, you have options. Students are either working on skills they need to remediate, working on extension activities like project-based learning, or just getting more practice on a specific skill. For example, upper elementary reading class students may utilize the time for self-selected reading, completing writing prompts in journals, or working on interactive notebook tasks. Or, students may be working on project-based learning assignments. Additionally, they may be playing phonics partner games. (Check out a few favorites below!) Regardless of the activity, student engagement is key! They have to be interested and engaged in what they are doing. Otherwise, the group will become off-task and disruptive. When this happens, the teacher group will stop in order for the teacher to handle behavior issues. To keep your class under control, make sure you have a strong classroom management plan in place.
Independent Flex Groups Game Examples
The independent groups may be the hardest to plan. While there are leveled activities in the teacher group, the teacher is there to monitor and support students. In the computer group, students are naturally engaged by being on the computer. However, students have options in the independent groups. If the selections are not engaging, students lose focus in learning and start distracting themselves and others. Thus, it is so important to ensure the different options will be highly engaging. Additionally, it is important that the activities still support differentiated instruction in order to ensure students are encouraged but not overwhelmed.
Luckily, this resource is sure to hold the attention span of your students! Here, the focus is on words with digraph CK. There are 30 colorful puzzles available in a printable format as well as a digital, Google Slides version. Students will put together a puzzle, which will strengthen spelling and reading fluency skills. Students will be so busy “playing” the phonics game that they won’t even realize they are learning! They’re also available in a HUGE Phonics Puzzle BUNDLE that covers all skills you need in your lower elementary classroom!
Easily differentiate the content for each of your flex groups by giving each group the phonics skill they need to reinforce with these engaging coloring phonics pages. Each hidden picture is focused on the specific phonics skill practiced on the page. For example – bat for short a, flip flops for l-blends, fish for digraph sh, etc. Just print and copy a small-group set each week for whatever skill your kiddos need to practice to make this a part of your weekly reading flex group routine! It’s easy for students to use and easy for teachers to monitor!
There are endless phonics options, including ones on CVC, blends, digraphs, silent e, vowel teams, R controlled vowels, and diphthong and variant vowels, in this huge collection. Each game includes 48 cards! Thus, these options will come in handy throughout the entire year. Teachers will just need to purchase some plastic spoons. Everything else is ready to print! Each set includes game cards that begin with a concept card and an image card. Then, there are three-word cards for students to match up during gameplay. Thus, students will love this fast-paced competition!
If you want to check out how educational and engaging these games are, be sure to check out this short e FREEBIE!
Since students will love the phonics games so much, there are 12 different sets ready for math! There are so many topics included, such as fractions and decimals, place value, sums to 20, and adding coins. Students will love the consistent format of a fun game while practicing all different content.
It is okay to admit that differentiation can be really hard and overwhelming. Teaching in and of itself is overwhelming at times. Students come into the classroom at all different levels, so they grow at all different paces. It is so important to acknowledge this aspect in order to ensure all students are feeling comfortable in the classroom. Therefore, flex groups create many options for students to work at the level that is just right for them!
Today’s blog post was just a very brief overview of what flex groups would look like in a classroom. There is a lot that goes on “behind the scenes” in forming groups, planning instructional activities and learning progressions, and even changing groups. (Remember they’re flexible. Hence, the name flex groups.) Stay tuned for future blog posts about the importance of getting it right when it comes to providing differentiated instruction for our students. You can also connect with me on social media for updates about new posts!