4 ways this district is fostering student success with small group instruction

By implementing digital tools to support small-group instruction, teachers can enable every student to achieve grade-level competency and beyond.
Mary Kemper
Mary Kemper
Mary Kemper, the executive director for instructional leadership, has served 11 years with Coppell ISD in Texas. Holding a strong commitment to fostering relationships with educators and administrators, she aims to facilitate a successful program that makes a lasting impact on the education system, while prioritizing the well-being and growth of students and staff.

Small-group instruction is a powerful strategy to address diverse student learning needs. Rather than view small group instruction as an entirely self-guided learning model that pairs students up and makes them teach themselves, at Coppell ISD we’re reframing that narrative by leveraging small groups for direct, hands-on learning.

By implementing digital tools to support small group instruction in these four ways, teachers can enable every student to achieve grade-level competency and beyond.

1. Support High-Quality Instruction Informed by Student Data: At our district, we first evaluated how our classroom tools did or did not free up teachers’ limited time for intervention, small group instruction, and personalized learning. Digital learning tools provide student data through continual formative assessment to help our teachers understand where students might be succeeding or struggling.

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With insight as to how students have solved each problem readily available through easy-to-understand, intuitive digital dashboards, our teachers are equipped to make small-group instruction more effective. Teachers can more easily tailor their lessons to meet students where they are, which propels many students toward concepts beyond their current grade level. In our small group settings and with the help of digital support, we’re seeing students average 100% proficiency across 30 standards of curriculum and beyond.

2. Evaluate Student Performance in Real-Time: Gauging students’ progress according to grade-level standards alone can be impractical. Learning is a constant process with myriad benchmarks to keep track of throughout the year. Instead, our teams focus on evaluating a smaller set of foundational skills on a weekly basis.

In small group settings, educators can use digital learning data to challenge perceptions of student understanding in the classroom. For example, educators may think a particular student has mastered a skill based on one assessment, but if the rigor of the problem itself is not up to grade level, then additional data may indicate a lack of mastery as a result. By tightening the scope, thoroughly assessing prerequisite skills and sequencing instruction accordingly, we can better ensure skills are in reach for every student.

3. Overcome Resourcing Challenges: Another simple but indispensable way digital tools can improve small-group instruction is by bringing lessons to life. As learners engage with three-dimensional models and two-dimensional representations, there are always gray areas in understanding. Differences in prerequisite skills can be seen across subject areas and were only intensified by the pandemic. Now, third-grade teachers not only need to teach third grade but in some cases also need to teach concepts from first and second grades.

Classrooms may not always have the physical materials and manipulatives they need to close those learning gaps, but we can turn to technology platforms for digital versions whether a small group is focused on counting individual blocks or building towers of Base 10 blocks. Students should be pulled into small groups to address unique needs with the support of these digital models. If we do not know where students need to be by the time we get them into those groups, actionable data insights from digital tools can derive those answers.

4. Equip Educators with Skills and Support: We cannot expect our teachers to leverage digital tools and apply small group methods without timely and relevant professional development. Our district is focused on providing job-embedded, flexible training for teachers. Commitments to teacher support must include actively prioritizing teacher retention and mental well-being. This is especially true when it comes to encouraging cross-grade collaboration, bridging knowledge gaps, and tackling students’ needs in small-group settings.

Regardless of whether students are behind grade level or excelling ahead, the synergy between small-group instruction and technology has the power to enhance student engagement and complement teachers’ pedagogy. As we navigate the educational landscape of the future, districts need to maximize their interventive spaces and equip students and teachers with the skills, knowledge, and tools necessary to thrive.

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