by Courtney Belolan
One of the tenets of learner centered proficiency based education is that learners work within their Zone of Proximal Development. This means using grouping and regrouping strategies to meet learners where they are and let them move at their readiness levels. While we all agree that this is what we want to be doing, the how isn't always clear. This week I lay out some possibilities for how to manage grouping and regrouping within a class.
1. Balancing Whole Class Experiences and Individual/Small Group Learning: Instead of thinking of learner centered practices as looking like each learner on their own track all the time, think of it as looking more like a mix of whole group experiences with multiple access points and time for individual or small group learning. In math this might look like spending time on problem solving with a more diverse group of learners a few days a week (think Number Talks, Hi/Low Tasks, real world problem solving, etc), then spending other days on individual needs and small group instruction. In a science class this could look like having an opening experience, participating in a set of whole group discussions across a unit, and participating in a culminating product together as learners move through targets within the unit or project at their own pace.
2. Free Flow Grouping: Instead of thinking of groups as being attached to the teacher for instruction in some way, think of groups as being attached to the targets and foundational skills. This method requires the teacher to have input resources in place and ready to go for learners at any given time. Any whole class interaction would skew more towards work around habits of mind and accountability partners, sharing goals and reflecting on processes. There may be some deadlines or other benchmarks to make room for things like revision or rehearsal, and once in a while there may be some whole group experiences that feel more like something separate altogether.
3. Shifting in Cohorts: Instead of thinking of groups as all switching at predetermined times, think of managing group switches based on smaller numbers. Learning is social so it is beneficial to actually have groups of learners working on the same skills or content at the same time. On the teacher end, it feel more manageable to have more than one learner start on new foundational skills or targets at the same time. Shift learners into new groups in cohorts of at least two learners. As teachers notice that learners are reading to move into something new, use some pacing strategies to make sure there is a cohort starting at the same time. This could look like some learners getting daily instruction or encouragement to complete work at a quicker pace, and some learners being given level 4 work or slowing down for a day or two.
The Learner Centered Practices Blog