Strategies for Multi-level Classrooms

Although the days of the one-room schoolhouse seem to be long gone, we revisit this phenomenon in some modern settings. Many special educators in public schools face wonderfully diverse groups of students with amazingly varied skill levels and learning styles. Classrooms within juvenile justice settings often trump that! As teachers inside secure settings, we serve wonderfully diverse scholars in our classrooms as well, only often times they are also multi-grade, and multi-course. How can we possibly manage that? Well, it requires the mix of various teaching methods and a combination of both structured and unstructured learning experiences. Below are three strategies to consider.

Strategy 1: Flexible Skill Grouping

What is it?

Flexible skill grouping is a method of instruction where students are grouped and regrouped according to specific goals, activities, and individual needs. Flexible grouping allows students to work in differently mixed groups depending on the goal of the learning task. These groups provide an opportunity for you as the teacher to provide explicit instruction related to concepts, strategies, and skills. With flexible grouping, students move in and out of groups based upon their individual instructional needs.

Why try it?

Flexible grouping is effective because students can spend more time getting instruction in areas where they need it. Flexible groups ensure that every student is working at her or his instructional level on the areas necessary to fill gaps in achievement.

What does it look like?

  1. Assess student skill levels
  2. Determine gaps and create flexible groups of students with similar instructional needs
  3. Design instruction and select learning activities that match the objective for each group
  4. Provide explicit instruction by teaching specific concepts, strategies, or skills
  5. Informally assess or evaluate student progress
  6. Disband each group after objective has been mastered

Strategy 2: Using Rotation and Centers

What are they?

Learning centers are often distinct areas within the classroom where students engage in learning activities independently. They are often distinct areas in a classroom, that offer various materials and opportunities for students to engage in independent and self-directed learning activities.

Why try it?

Learning centers offer opportunities for students to engage in independent and self-directed learning activities and free you as the teacher to provide direct, explicit, targeted instruction to small groups.

What does it look like?

Most often the teacher is working with a small group of students, while the rest of the classes is divided into two or three groups. The groups then rotate through the various centers.

Strategy 3: Peer Facilitated Instruction

What is it?

Peer facilitated instruction is a method that involves pairing high-performing students to tutor lower-performing students (related to specific objectives) in a classroom setting under the supervision of a teacher. The role of tutor also includes maintaining a supportive and encouraging relationship with the tutee. These relationships should not be stagnant, but rather changing dependent on which students demonstrate mastery of specific concepts.

Why try it?

Peer facilitated instruction has been proven to result in improvement in academic achievement for a diversity of learners across content areas. The best part is that these gains were demonstrated by both higher and lower performing students and those gains were not only academic, but social as well!

What does it look like?

There are many ways to organize peer facilitated instruction, but one common denominator is that pairs must be strategically matched, pairs must be trained to maintain positive relationships, and pairs should be frequently monitored.