Blended learning trial: ‘mastery’ and ‘dynamic grouping’

Normally, my classroom looks like this.  Four groups of tables together, with me as the teacher either at the whiteboard or floating around the classroom.  While I really enjoy the small group-based, collaborative learning, I felt that I had no real way of thoroughly and comprehensively checking for understanding.  Also, some more advanced students would become bored and might become frustrated having to take all the responsibility to help the lesser-abled students all the time.  Lessons proceeded at a uniform pace, dictated by me, whether learning was happening or not.

To address this problem, I thought that I could adopt mastery and dynamic grouping ideals to slightly transform my classroom.  While I have often kept my four groups of tables, I have sometimes shifted the classroom into a large ‘U’ shape, with tables facing the wall.  In the middle of the ‘U’ I have kept a slightly larger table.  Now, after exploring a significant piece of content with the students, I have taken to using as a piece of technology to instantly assess who is understanding a particular concept and who is struggling.  The next lesson, when a student comes in, they get to go to personal learning time (PLT) with a set ‘playlist’ of extension activities for the particular topic we did the previous day.  If they did not perform well with the quiz, I sit with them in the middle table and go through the exercises in a different way.  I then asked them to take the quiz again and only when they had achieved a perfect score would they be able to go to PLT as well.

So far I have done this twice.  The first time students were writing an analytical essay on themes in a novel.  After doing some drafting, students were asked to join the middle table for one or more of the areas of need that I identified (content, organisation or style and language mechanics).  I then held mini-writer’s workshops for these activities.  The second time we were looking at literary devices in poetry – we completed the activity in a similar manner, each time using as a tool to gain instant feedback.

The key differences were that I have now split my role in half.  For the first lesson (or exposition lesson), I maintain my traditional role and classroom structure.  For the ‘confirmation of understanding’ lesson, I set up the PLT playlists, use technology to more frequently assess student understanding, and become a small group coach.  In this brief time I have noticed in the students an increased desire to ‘get the questions right’ rather than brush off understanding of similes, metaphors and idioms as useless knowledge.  Transitioning between activities is still noisy and clunky, so I have some work to do here.  I would like to continue this process, but rather find a way to announce student groupings (PLT or coaching?) in a more indirect, discrete manner to avoid embarrassment.  Also, the room is small and so I need to devise a way to do the oral coaching while not disturbing the extension PLT students – perhaps a different space?

Overall I hope this written account gave you a clear idea about the change I have implemented and my thoughts on the process.  Not as interesting as a video I know, but thank you for taking the time to read and offer any feedback – I really appreciate it.

PS: I have attached a photo of the ‘traditional’ classroom layout I typically use for an exposition lesson.  For the follow-up coaching, if you could imagine most of the tables up against the wall with chairs facing the wall and one grouping of tables in the middle.  Our students have a 1:1 Mac program which makes implementing this PLT time pretty easy!

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