There are so many reasons that small group instruction is a good format for learning. I had always known that teaching small groups was better for differentiating instruction, but the more small group instruction I do this year, the more benefits I discover.
Small groups are good for targeted instruction. When students in a small group are all on or near the same academic level, the teacher is able to really target lessons to meet students’ needs. Then, within that small group, as students complete assignments or work on tasks, the teacher is able to confer one on one with students to assess, provide feedback, adjust instruction, or challenge that student further. Within a small group, the teacher can also assign different problems or assignments to each student and still have the ability to work with each of those students as the rest of the class works independently.
In small groups, the students also have more opportunities to talk to and listen to each other. During whole group instruction, taking all students’ questions and comments becomes extremely time-consuming and can detract from the lesson. In small groups, students have more time and space to talk. I have noticed that this has been a particularly beneficial format during math this year, as students figure out different ways to solve problems, reflect on their own thinking by sharing it aloud, and learn from others who share the process they used, which may very likely have been different.
What about the students who are working independently while the teacher meets with a small group? Those students are also learning valuable skills as they navigate their responsibilities independently. They are often practicing collaboration, cooperation, and problem-solving with their peers on a game or activity. They are learning to manage their own time in order to complete assignments without direct guidance from the teacher. Finally, they are learning to solve problems that may come up by asking a friend for help or using other resources around the room.