Kindergarten teachers learn quickly that forming groups in their classrooms is an effective academic and behavioral strategy. Young children are easier to manage in small groups, and the teacher is able to learn which students need more help on specific skills. Grouping is not a random exercise. Evaluate student skill levels -- and other factors -- when establishing groups in the kindergarten classroom.
Ability grouping is based on readiness for specific subjects, mainly math and reading. Teachers use formal and informal assessments and their observations as criteria for ability grouping. One example of a formal test is the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills, which tests the specific skills of initial sound fluency, letter-naming fluency and phoneme segmentation. Scores from this tests indicate if a child is at-risk, low risk or in some risk of academic failure. Kindergarten readiness tests are more general in nature and assess a student's knowledge of alphabet and number recognition, counting skills and ability to name shapes and colors.
When ability grouping, look at the data from your assessments first, which will provide the information you need to form groups. Chart the results by skill and then group accordingly. For example, place students who already know letter sounds in one group because they show a high level of readiness. Students who recognize five or fewer letters and cannot produce any sounds need to be in a group so that you can deliver intensive instruction on these skills.
In flexible grouping, you establish groups based on similar interests and developmental goals. When forming flexible groups that are based mainly on shared interests, give your students a kindergarten inventory, a brief survey that gives you information about their personal preferences including favorite games, television shows, books and learning styles. In addition to these interest inventories, have informal conferences with your students. You can learn even more about them when talking informally. After you give the surveys and read the notes from your conversations, compare the children's answers and establish three or four groups, preferably with no more than five students in a group.
Ability grouping is not something teachers should do only at the beginning of the year. As struggling students progress in reading and math skills and show strong improvement, you can move them to a higher level group. Sometimes you may have to move a student to a lower group because he is not able to master skills at the same rate as his peers. Flexible grouping is not set in stone either. Some students who were initially very shy and withdrawn when school began may become more social by the middle of the year and can be placed in a group with others who are similarly adapting to the school environment.
You may want to place an average student in the group with the struggling students so they will have a peer who can help guide them in group activities. Ensure that this student is not a behavior problem or will not make fun of others who haven't mastered skills yet. If there is a personality conflict between two students in one group, move one of them to a lower or higher group. Choose the one who is most amenable to change and will benefit the most from the move. Numbers are another consideration. In a perfect situation, you will have no more than six students in a grade-level or advanced group and no more than four in a struggling group. If you have a large class, you may have to form four or five groups to achieve these sizes. The priority is to have small, low-level groups so that you can assess students' individual progress as you work with them.
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