Tip of the Week
Homogeneous groups are a type of instructional group where learners are placed with other students who are alike in some way. Literacy instruction in most public school settings includes
time in homogeneous groups, usually based on overall reading level, using
instructional level texts as the primary reading material. This structure is
based on the work of Marie Clay, and others, who advocate that students should
be working on their instructional level,
with texts that are just a little higher than what they can read and comprehend
independently. Identifying a student’s independent, instructional and
frustration levels in reading has made reading instruction much more enjoyable
for students, and has led to better targeting of specific foci for instruction,
for groups of students.
While homogeneous groups have their place in instruction,
only using homogeneous, leveled groups can lead to some unintended problems in instruction:
- While they may progress within their instructional level groups, students in the lower groups often do not “accelerate” – that is, the lowest
performing students do not make up a year and a half’s growth over the course
of the school year, and end the year as behind as when they started the year;
- Learners work with their instructional level
texts, but students do not apply learned strategies to more challenging texts, nor learn
additional strategies for navigating appropriately complex texts (e.g., grade-level,
or above) – and these might not even be the same strategies;
- Although generally supported as a strategy for increasing performance of gifted and
talented students, scientific literature does not necessarily support homogeneous ability grouping for other groups;
- Grouping of students based on literacy level
creates de facto tracking, as other content areas may now be “leveled” because
of scheduling reading instruction;
- Students in the highest groups often do not receive an
equitable level of instruction, as they generally are more independent in
academic tasks, and can complete grade-level assignments without adult
assistance – consequently, while they start out and end the year ahead of their
classmates, they do not make a year’s growth, as they often receive less actual
direct instruction with appropriately challenging material;
- Homogeneous grouping may undermine the use of
collaborative groups and student discourse, as the lowest readers might lack
sufficient oral language skills or background knowledge to have extended discourse
and the highest students may be accustomed to working in isolation, rather than
Reading Level, vs. Literacy Level
Using the overall reading level of a student (such as her
DRA level), rather than a specific skill area, can also make instruction challenging
in homogeneous groups:
- Because reading is a complex task, reading
level, alone, is not specific enough to help the teacher select an appropriate
instructional focus for a student;
- Students in a “group” may be at the same DRA
level for many different reasons, and need different strategies from one
- The students in the lowest performing groups may
need many different skills, that planning appropriate, targeted instruction
for their groups becomes challenging;
- Reading level only measures some components of
comprehensive literacy: speaking and listening, word work, writing and other
areas are not adequately measured by the DRA or other similar assessments;
- Student groups may become static, as reading level changes more slowly than specific skill proficiency.
Why Focus on Discourse?
Forming mixed instructional groups to foster
student-to-student discourse is based on several principles:
- The best peer to model a particular skill or
strategy is one who most recently mastered it;
- Listening and speaking come before reading and
- Comprehension of a topic or concept exists
separately from being able to decode a text about it;
- Comprehension can be measured by how well a
student discusses a topic or concept;
- Talking about a topic or concept is a rehearsal
for writing about it;
- Discussion has to be explicitly taught, just
like other literacy skills.
Forming Discussion Groups
Here is one way to form groups that foster
- Rank the students in your class from 1-5 on
their English Oral Language, with 1 being a beginner, and 5 being the highest
with regard to their oral language skills (ability to converse, vocabulary use,
ability to listen to other speakers, ability to work around sticky points when
working with a group, etc.).
- Form groups of students with mixed rankings,
with a range of similar (but not the same) abilities (see the graphic for an
example), such as 1-2-3 together, 2-3-4 together, and 3-4-5 together.
- To distribute the groups among several
classrooms, you can now have a low, medium and high group, but the groups will
be heterogeneous. And, because you are grouping on a specific skill, you won’t
have “predictable” groups: e.g., you might have a student ranked as a 4 or 5,
based on oral language and group leadership, who is a struggling decoder,
Provide literacy tasks at a lower reading level
than instructional, because your focus will be on discussion strategies to
prepare a group oral response to questions. (Literature Circles work well for
To Form Groups across Classrooms
Rank the students for the whole grade level.
[NOTE: This example assumes the following distribution of
students, when ranked by oral language proficiency, just as an example. Use
your own numbers here.]
- Rank 1 – 8 students (new arrivals, with limited
English oral language proficiency)
- Rank 2 – 12 students
- Rank 3 – 20 students
- Rank 4 – 16 students
- Rank 5 – 4 students
You will want groups of 5 students for discourse. In this
example, there are 20 students per classroom, or 4 groups per classroom.
To form “leveled” classrooms (to prioritize
assignment of adult supports, for example), concentrate the 1’s in one
classroom, and the 5’s in another (you may have to adjust this, depending on
your specific numbers).
Distribute students of a given rank across a
number of groups, paying attention to dynamics among particular students
(remember, you want conversation, so you want to create groups of students who
will be supportive of one another.
Refer to the diagram, below, for one way to form mixed instructional groups, based on a oral language proficiency, across multiple classrooms. (NOTE: This same technique could be used to form mixed groups for any other skill, as well).
Regardless of the content area (math, science,
reading, writing), provide learning tasks that focus on discussion.
- For reading, instead of guided reading groups, create literature circles, and
provide discussion prompts.
- For math, provide complex problems with multiple possible solutions, and have groups collaborate to solve the problems.
science, provide a scientific claim that students must find evidence to both
support AND refute, before they select their stance on the issue.
- For social studies, create a gallery walk of artifacts for students to discuss and respond to.
- For writing, create peer editing/revising groups for process writing assignments.
Grade Level: Upper elementary
, reluctant readers
, classroom environment
, cooperative learning
, second language support
, grouping strategies
What's your favorite recommended read-aloud of all time? Post a link and a short description, with the hashtag #favoritereads to this page...
Teachers and parents often struggle to create a love of reading in young boys. In fact, most of the books that we use in classrooms are selected by their (female) teachers, and appeal more to the sensibilities of the girls in our classrooms more than the boys.
Any of you who either teach or live with a boy from the age of 7 to 27 know that they often operate under a different set of humor rules. For example, all of my boys learned magically how to make rude noises with their armpits (and even the back of the knee!) without begin taught by anyone. An informal survey of the adult males in my life showed me that about 99% of the men I know ALSO know how to do this. For a comparison, count the number of girls and women that report being able to (or even WANTING) to do this. See what I mean?
My experience as a mother and teacher also showed me that boys really like books that come in a series. I can't explain why -- maybe it's the competition with their friends ("I'm on Night of the Ninjas... which one are you reading?"). Maybe it's because the books in series tend to be a series of adventures, which appeal to boys. At any rate, I did well if I bought up a bag of series books at a tag sale -- they flew off the shelf in the hands of my boys.
Junie B. Jones is one of those kids that stays in a grade a long time, at least in books! The first Junie B. Jones
book starts with her entering school as a kindergartner. After 17 books about her kindergarten days, there are 10 in the Junie B. Jones, First Grader
series, all written by Barbara Park.
While the main character is a girl, and girls definitely like these books, Junie B. is not your typical girl. Kindergarten through second grade boys love to hear Junie B. tell a classmate, "How would you like me to kick you in your can?" She also has a very interesting perspective on how life and school work, and is always kind of, sort of, in trouble for things like forgetting the "assembly rules" and such.
A good series for 1st and 2nd graders.
There are currently eight books in this collection, with two (reportedly) in the works by author Dav Pilkey. I know of parents and classroom teachers who banned these books from their kids' hands. Their reasons included misspellings (the books are based on a comic-book series that the two main characters create, and they are known more for their pranks than their literary prowess), irreverence (you know, the "kids against teachers kind") and many, many references to "potty words." Anyone who has taught kids of any age, especially boys, know that potty words, all by themselves, are funny. Whatever the objections, boys eat these books up. Good for great 1st grade readers through 3rd graders.
I get to visit a lot of schools, and all age ranges of kids. Everywhere I go, I have seen one of the Diary of a Wimpy Kid
books in the hands of most boys, from grades 2 through 6. This seems to be the next level up for former fans of the Captain Underpants
books (in fact, when I was in a second grade classroom last week, one boy was reading a Diary of a Wimpy Kid
book that had circulated around his table of friends, and, when I asked if they liked Captain Underpants
, too, they all quietly pulled out one of those from their desk, as well!
This, and the aforementioned Captain Underpants series, are a good way to introduce the genre of graphic novel to elementary kids.
There are a whopping 165 books, written under various titles, in the Goosebumps
collections, by R. L. Stine. They are not difficult reads, and are consumed in mass quantities by kids in grades 3-6. The content is definitely suspenseful, and the covers and titles, alone, can cause anxiety in some more sensitive readers. (My own 2nd grader, who is a voracious reader, saw this series at the library, recognizing it as a popular read among kids his age, so he took one home. He read half in bed one night, and was up the rest of the night. He asked me to take it back to the library!).
They are not inappropriate reads for young children, but you will have to judge your own child's sensitivities and likes.
For upper elementary and early middle school children, or for read-aloud to the nature-lovers in your house or classroom, there is the Redwall
series, by Brian Jacques. Set in the countryside, these books tell various tales of the inhabitants of a "town" set in and around an old stone wall. It has lots of things that boys love in a book: animals, adventure, sword-fighting, drama and intrigue, heroes and villains. No magic here, just animals acting like people. My oldest son was a Redwall
fan as a child, and, when he moved into his first apartment, I saw his box of books carefully move along with him.
That made his teacher-mom very happy...
Things are wrapping up (although not quieting down!) in schools all across the country this month. I know that this was often the time when I would see some of my little ones just finally getting a head of academic steam. I worried about how they could maintain this over the summer, especially in the area of reading.
One way to encourage reading over the summer is to get your kids signed up for summer reading programs. There are many available, and they all offer some incentive to the students to keep reading even after the last school bell of the year rings. They all allow children to record titles or minutes when parents read to the children, as well as times when the student reads independently. Here are some of the bigger reading incentive programs that are available. Sign kids up for more than one! Get your school to participate!
Tip of the Week: Summer Reading Programs
1. Barnes and Noble's 2011 Summer Reading Program: "Imagination's Destination"
offers elementary age students an opportunity to win free books for reading, as well as a chance for their parents to win a Nook Color
. They simply go to the website in the link, above, and download a reading journal, then start reading! When they have read 8 books, an adult at home signs their reading journal, then they take it to their nearest B&N to exchange for one of a selection of free books. This challenge can be repeated until the ending date for the summer. Check out their website for the downloadable journal, as well as details on other offers, including a free tote bag for online orders.
2. Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge
is set up for both individual readers and schools to participate. Students participating in the Scholastic Summer Reading Challenge log their minutes of reading on an online log. Kids can either register online themselves, or, alternatively, teachers can register their class. This latter option lets teachers monitor the reading activity (i.e., minutes read) by their students. Parents can log in and download reading activities to do with their kids. Students who meet whatever the weekly challenge is, will receive an email with an electronic prize, and a chance to win a set of books, just for participating. See the link for entry information.
3. Not to be out-competed by other booksellers, Borders has its Double-Dog Dare Reading Challenge
, for kids 12 and under. Like the B&N summer reading program, kids download a reading log from the Borders website, and record their titles. When they reach 10, they can take their reading log to their nearest Borders, where they can exchange it for one of a number of selected titles, for free. Visit the link above for more details, and to see the list of free titles.
4. If you have a Half-Price Books store near you, check out their Feed Your Brain
summer reading program. The HPB program offers kids $5 gift cards redeemable at their stores. Like the others, above, kids download a reading log from the HPB website, and log the minutes they read. When they reach 600 minutes, they simply bring the log (signed by an adult) to the store, and receive their gift card, plus a chance at winning a $20 gift card. Check out the details, and download the reading log, at the link, above.
5. For something a little different, see TD Bank's Summer Reading Program
. Just download a reading log from their website, and read 10 books. For every ten books that a child reads, TD Bank will deposit $10 into an existing or new Young Saver's Account. See the website, for details about the YSA accounts.
6. Do kids want to go to the movies? National Amusement's "Bookworm Wednesdays"
reward students' summer reading by paying their way to selected movie showings. They simply read a book, then complete a book report form, which they download from the website. Then, on Wednesdays during the summer, they pay their way into the theater's 10:00 showing with their book report! For more information about the movies running on Bookworm Wednesday's, check out their website, at the link, above.
7. How about joining a reading club? H. E. Buddy Summer Reading Club
runs a summer reading program similar to many of the ones above. The student must record books he's read on a downloadable reading log. When he has read 10 books, he then mails the form to the address listed on the website. In 3-4 weeks, he receives a T-shirt as a prize.
8. If a child is a Chuck E. Cheese fan, there are downloadable rewards calendars
for summer reading, as well as other goals. If the child successfully meets the goal every day for 2 weeks, she can bring the completed calendar to Chuck E. Cheese and get 10 free tokens in exchange.
9. Don't forget your local library. All of them run some kind of summer reading program. Check out their website, or, better yet, encourage kids to stop by in person. Most libraries also have special summer activities, story hour, visiting authors in the summer. Many also sponsor daily free lunch for school-age children. Start checking now for information on your local library.
10. Your State Department of Education probably offers a reading incentive program for individual students or schools. In Connecticut, it is called Connecticut Reads 2011: One World, Many Stories
. Schools register, and distribute reading logs and information to students. When the kids come back in the fall, the school collects the reading logs, and schools get prizes for student participation. Check out the website, above, for a downloadable reading poster, as well as suggested reading lists by grade level.
For more ideas on encouraging boys to read during the summer, read the entry, "Engaging Boys in Reading," our article, Literacy 101
For your own reading, check out Bill Howe on Multicultural Education
-- an incredible assortment of articles on cultural issues in education, that you can get delivered to your inbox free.
The staff at Northside Consulting wishes you a peaceful, enjoyable holiday weekend!