Flexible Grouping for Inclusivity

Topics: Teacher Effectiveness

Inclusivity is necessary for all students to feel as though they have the opportunity to succeed.

This is the focus of the new Forward Together: School Leader’s Guide to Creating Inclusive Schools, which offers tips to administrators needing to help teachers implement essential strategies such as flexible grouping, collaboration, and culturally responsive teaching to support inclusivity.

What Is Flexible Grouping?

Inclusive classrooms work on the assumption that students come with varying levels of strengths and needs, which shift constantly depending on the content area, the objective, or even the time of day. Flexible grouping supports these varying levels of learning ability.

Why It’s Important

Flexible grouping allows the 1 student in 5 with a disability to get the right support, in the right way, at the right time. It not only allows for inclusion in the general education classroom, but also tailors support and intervention to the areas each student needs the most.

When flexible grouping is a daily routine, “needing” to meet with the teacher for small-group work becomes the expectation. And since groups change frequently, flexible grouping avoids the static nature of grouping students based on ability level alone—something that can increase the stigma that the 1 in 5 often feel in fixed school groupings.

Steps for Teachers

As the school leader, you can support teachers as they implement flexible grouping practices in classrooms. The School Leader’s Guide to Creating Inclusive Schools focuses on a four-step approach:

Clearly define the learning objective for each lesson. The clearer teachers are on what students need to master by the end of the lesson, the more intentional they can be about the groups created.

Determine what type of group is necessary to meet the objective. In flexible grouping, groups stay together for only the length of time necessary for students to develop an identified skill, master a specific concept, or accomplish a task.

Review data to consider the grouping strategies specific students might need. It’s common to see a variety of grouping strategies and sizes. In elementary grades, students might rotate among different learning stations. In upper elementary and middle levels, students might engage in collaborative learning structures with clearly defined roles.

Plan a whole-group debrief. At the end of a lesson, students return to connect their learning and the learning target. They also engage in debriefs of the group learning process itself.

Principal Support of Flexible Grouping

The School Leader’s Guide to Creating Inclusive Schools consolidates key practices, steps, and resources to get schools started on flexible grouping—or to build upon efforts they already have underway. An Inventory for Action helps principals identify their schools’ attributes of flexible grouping and where they might focus and prioritize the school’s efforts next.

If your school has a policy against ability tracking, establish and communicate a policy for effective grouping. Flexible grouping is designed to avoid having students “tracked” into one group for the year or semester.

If teachers create a learning environment that is responsive to student needs, establish a community of learners in which taking academic risks is normal and expected.

If your teachers understand and communicate about student learning needs, establish weekly or monthly data meetings for grade-level teams.

If teachers frequently assess student learning, establish routines for collecting and analyzing formative assessment data and create a common assessment calendar that includes data analysis meetings.

If teachers provide rigorous instruction aligned to student needs, help them establish routines for providing remediation and enrichment during instruction.

Download the full report—which includes information, resources, and tools for action on 10 mindsets and strategies.