Friday, September 19, 2008

Small group instruction (or not)

The other evening at Meet the Teacher night, I introduced myself to parents by explaining that I would be providing Academic Intervention Services in literacy to their children, who would benefit from small-group instruction. Except that the part about the small-group instruction was kind of a lie.

AIS providers are supposed to service at-risk students who are reading below grade level. In our school, unfortunately, that's a lot of students. At our AIS meeting, I learned that our groups can be as large as 15 students (above the 10 I had previously thought). In other grades, where the classes have as many as 30 students, this means that the AIS teacher and the classroom teacher have an even split. But in second grade, with class sizes mercifully hovering around 22 students, it can mean that if I take everyone who's reading below grade level, my group is larger than the classroom teacher's.

Most of my teachers have agreed that this is ridiculous. In one of my ELL (English Language Learner) classes, we capped my group at 10 students even though it means that there are F readers in the classroom teacher's group (remember: at this point in the year our kids should be reading at level I). But in two of my classes, my group is larger than the teacher's. In one class, I have 13 students and the teacher has 8. Of my 13 students, four of them are non-English speakers. I'm talking no English at all. Five of them, though, are on level H, and they are the kind of attention-sucking students that will steal all the focus from the ELLs who could really, really benefit from focused, small-group instruction. This is the class that burns me the most, because with the inclusion of those five H students I have five different levels and thus five different guided reading groups.

Rather than the rule being "AIS providers can take up to 15 students," I think the rule should be "AIS providers can take up to half the number of students in the class." But what do I know? I just work here.


Ms. M said...

Are you forced to make your schedule in this way. In your situation, rather than making my groups based on classroom teacher I would make them based on reading level so that every one in one group was roughly at the same level. To me it doesn't make sense for you to break your small group pull out into even smaller groups. Also, for the ELL students who do not speak any English, does it make sense for you to pick them up at all? Don't they get focused small group instruction with their ESL teacher? I always tell the AIS people at my school that they CAN in fact take ELLs (there was a misconception that they couldn't) but the newcomers really shouldn't be in a reading group with native speakers at this point. The need to gain some vocabulary so that they are not reading words they can't understand anyways. I can read in Spanish but I would have no idea what I was reading. Same with them. It seems like your school needs to prioritize which students are receiving AIS services. Like you say, it makes no sense to take more than half of a class. Of course what makes perfect sense to US, the teachers, doesn't always make sense to administration. I would try to talk to them about reorganizing groups/reducing my load.

Anonymous said...

Every year there is a seismic shift at my school in what the ESL teachers are doing. Last year they pushed into the classrooms during science and social studies. This year they are pushing in during writing and word work. The fifth grade is the only grade in which the ESL teachers push in during reading and take their own small group.

The way AIS works at my school is that the AIS teacher takes the bottom kids in the class. In most of my classes the levels range from A to H. I have my ten kids and I do a mini lesson with those ten kids at the same time that the teacher does her mini lesson with the rest of the class (most of the time, but not always, we're doing the same mini lesson). Then I do a guided reading lesson. For guided reading, the kids have to be on the same level, and we aren't allowed to lump in another kid from a different level. So if I only have one kid reading on D, he ends up in his own guided reading group by himself. So if I have five different levels in a class, it means five different reading groups.

Then AFTER guided reading I do a "strategy lesson," which can be with kids from different levels who need to work on the same strategy. Then the whole group comes together again for a share. It remains to be seen whether I will actually be able to accomplish a mini lesson, a guided reading group and a strategy lesson in one 50-minute period.

ALSO (I should probably make this its own entry instead of a comment!), I was under the impression that instead of doing guided reading with beginner ELLs who can't understand me anyway, I could do some shared reading or vocabulary stuff with them, but then we got this memo on "modified guided reading for beginning level ELLs," so guided reading it is. I asked if I could give my beginner ELLs some other stuff to do during independent reading time, like an alphabet or vocabulary game or something like that, and I was told that I cannot. TC says they must read! They must read level A books in a language they cannot understand! Because TC says so!

Ms. Peace said...

I tell my beginning ELLs to practice comprehension strategies in their native language. For example, I had 2 Spanish-speaking A level readers pointing to everything in the picture and giving it a name (in Spanish). Later I will probably have them tell the story to each other using the pictures all in Spanish. I'm not sure it that's an option for you, but I find that it really builds up their skills so that when they do acquire some English, they already have some higher level skills in place and often take off into E or F books as soon as they acquire some English language. Hope that's helpful.