Most good teachers know that in order to address the needs of all students, they need to differentiate their instruction. Differentiation doesn’t mean a different lesson for every kid every day, but it does mean occasionally giving students different work based on their strengths or areas of need.
Because teachers can’t be in two (or three or four) places at once, many have turned to edtech platforms to facilitate differentiation in their classrooms. One of the most common practices is with small group instruction. Say you have a class of 24 students in your classroom. You can have 8 students working with you in a group, 8 students working in pairs on an edtech platform, and another 8 working independently (either digitally or on paper), all at the same time. Using edtech strategically during small group instruction is one of the best ways to include different activities in your classroom without doing too much extra work. Below are some of our favorite strategies for keeping things cool, calm, and collected when you’re implementing edtech during small group instruction.
Build Tech Into Your Lesson Plans
Every week, decide how you’re going to use edtech in small groups. What skills does each group need to work on? Which platforms have really great content or practice on that skill? How many minutes of class time will be spent on the computer each week? Make time to book the laptop carts and set-up assignments. Figure out how the desks will be arranged during tech time. Think through these details each week to minimize chaos during the school day.
Set Aside Time to Analyze Data
One of the biggest advantages of edtech is how much data you’ll have access to! Because you don’t have to grade as much by hand (on many platforms, the computer will do that for you), you should have a little bit of extra time to go over data. If you don’t look over your data, you won’t know if the small group instruction is effective. Use data to determine whether students are mastering the content (do you need to reteach it?) or if you need to switch up the student groupings.
Hold Students Accountable
Just because students aren’t working directly under your watch doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t (or can’t) hold them accountable. How will work on edtech platforms be reflected in the grade book? Do they need to get through a specific number of questions or achieve a certain level or mastery? Or are you going to grade a summary of what they learned? Students need to know that if you’re giving them the autonomy to work in small groups and on the computer, you still expect them to be on task.
Make a Technology Schedule
If you aren’t at a one-to-one school or need to rotate tech time, keep a schedule in your classroom so students know when they can expect to be on the computer. Students will look forward to their day working in smaller groups or independently. This also builds a sense of routine and consistency in your classroom.
Keep Login Info Handy
A room full of students asking (screaming at) their teacher for their usernames and passwords is no fun for anyone. Keep a spreadsheet of usernames and encourage your students to use a general password like [algebra1]+ [student ID #] or a silly name that you agree on as a class at the beginning of the year. It’s a waste of everyone’s time if students spend nearly the entire period trying to log in or resetting their password.
Implementing tech-forward small group instruction can feel intimidating, but it’s worth it if each student can practice the skills they individually need to work on. Hopefully, you can use some of these tips to make the process go a bit smoother in your own classroom!
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