The educational system of a society is fundamental for the development and ultimate advancement of the entire community. Governments all over the world have acknowledged that educational strategies can have a significant impact on economic and social outcomes of their citizens. It is for this reason that so much emphasis is placed on the educational process by all the relevant stakeholders.
Educators in particular have been challenged to provide instructions that suit the diverse needs presented by the learners. Various strategies have been proposed and implemented to deal with these challenges and ensure optimal results. Two strategies that have proved to be successful are Small Group Instruction and Learning Centers. This paper shall set out to discuss the strengths and challenges presented by both strategies. This paper shall also discuss how small group instruction and learning centers are related to scaffolding and differentiating instruction.
Small Group Instruction
Small groups instructions are instructions offered to a small group (generally made up of two to six students) independent of the large class group. The group size is purposeful so that the teacher can focus on the student’s skill and make notes on responses. Small groups discussions can help to encourage metacognition and higher level of comprehension among the students engaged in the group. This is especially so through the use of reciprocal teaching which encourages the students to construct meaning from texts. Israel (2005) asserts that small groups have been used to assist delayed readers catch up and in some cases even exceed typically developed readers.
Strengths of Small Group Instructions
Small-groups give the educators a means through which they can group students based on their strengths and needs. This is because small groups enable the teacher to select groups of students who demonstrate similar academic needs and learning styles. The teacher is therefore in a position to tailor their teachings to provide specific instructions that best challenge all learners in the group. This would not be possible in whole-class instructions since the whole class will compose of students with varying strengths and needs. By use of small groups, the teacher can give the support that is needed to specific student’s to allow them to expand their understanding.
Small groups enable an educator to best manage their time. This is because small groups are flexible and fluid in nature and the frequency with which a teacher meets with a group and the time he/she dedicates with the group varies in accordance with the assignment at hand and the particular needs of the group. As such, a teacher can spend less time with a group composed of fast learners and more time with a group which is struggling with new concepts.
Challenges of Small Group Instructions
One of the challenges posed by small-group is that they require a high level of involvement on the part of the teacher at the beginning stage (Israel, 2005). This is because at the onset, the students need a lot of guidance to engage in the various monitoring strategies. In the case where there are a number of small-groups in operation, it will be hard for the teacher to provide the needed attention to each group.
Another challenge presented by small groups is that careful consideration must be given to group formation and composition. The teacher has to ensure that the group composition is right and that the learning objectives he/she sets for particular groups is the most desirable one. This may be challenging for most teachers and if the group composition is flawed, the efficiency of the small group will be greatly diminished.
Relationship with Scaffolding and Differentiating Instruction
McGee and Morrow (2003) define differentiated instruction as “instruction that meets the specific and different needs of individual children in a classroom”. Differentiated instructions are therefore based on the understanding that not all students are alike. Small groups may be used in conjunction with differentiated instructions to obtain the best results. While dividing the students into their various small groups, differentiated instruction which is based on the understanding that not al students are alike can be taken into consideration. Hall, Strangman and Meyer (2003) demonstrate that bearing differentiated instruction in mind, student grouping must be a dynamic process with changes occurring regularly as a result of constant evaluations.
McGee and Morrow (2005) define scaffolding as the different kinds of help that teachers provide children as they engage in the various learning activities. In the small group instructions, the goal of the teacher is to lead students to develop conceptual understanding so that they can navigate independently in the particular activity. The teacher can provide scaffolding to help students move from one level of competence to a higher one where they can work independently. The scaffolding provided will generally differ depending on the needs and abilities of the students. This is because some students need a lot of help so as to complete tasks while others need minimal help.
Learning centers can be viewed as a method through which learning is individualized and personalized. Learning centers compose of activities that are specially made for individual students and small groups. Israel (2005, p.109) reveals that learning centers are designed to “enable individuals or small groups of students to interact with course content after the teacher has taught the focus lesson or while the teacher is leading small-group sessions”.
Strengths of Learning Centers
A positive outcome of learning centers is that they provide teachers with more time to assist students practice on content that the teacher has previously taught. One of the complaints that every teacher has is that there is never enough time to effectively cover the content of the curriculum within the typical school year. By use of learning centers, the teacher can counter this by creating more time to revisit previous content that may not have been understood by the students.
Learning centers also give the teacher an opportunity to make learning more exiting and also provide student’s with more hand-on activities to increase their proficiency on certain taught content (King-Sears, 2007). In the regularly allotted class time, the teacher is hard pressed for time and he/she may not be in a position to indulge the students in hands on activities or more examples on the subject being taught. This may result in students having only a vague understanding of the content taught. Learning centers present the perfect means through which the teacher can provide better explanations and break things down for the students.
One of the realities that teachers face is that the students learn at different rates and have varied learning styles. King-Sears (2007) states that learning centers assist teachers to fit various instructional components with the varied learning rates exhibited by students. This is possible though the designing and implementation of learning centers that “provide instructional extensions for all types of learners” (King-Sears, 2007). Learning centers can provide the students possessing varied learning abilities with the opportunity to increases their proficiency in skills they may have acquired through previous lessons. The students may also learn how to apply the knowledge and skills to new scenarios through the many experiments and extra activities that are availed to them in the learning centers.
Challenges of Learning Centers
Implementing learning centers calls for high levels of organization by the teachers. King-Sears (2007) states that educators must “expand their skills beyond delivering instructions via whole-group formats”. This presents a strain on the educators who are already fully engaged with the normal class operations. In the event where the educators come up with an appropriate learning center, they need to keep adjusting the learning centers. This is because the profile of the students in the class keeps changing therefore posing constant challenges for the teachers as they have to constantly evolve the learning centers to suit the student needs.
Relationship with Scaffolding and Differentiating Instruction
King-Sears (2007) declares that educators must be “highly organized to differentiate instruction and practice opportunities for learners with diverse learning goals”. Educators in the learning center setting must therefore design activities which are simulating and engaging to various students who have various learning levels. Learning centers must therefore be designed with the needs of various students in mind. By doing this, the educators are in essence practicing differentiating since to differentiate instruction is to identify the student’s differing possessed knowledge, learning preferences and to come up with effective responses to this (Hall, Strangman & Meyer, 2003).
Scaffolding is one of the basis on which learning centers are made. In a learning center, a teacher can establish procedures and practice them so as to ensure that the students know what to do and how to do it (King-Sears, 2007). Learning center activities can be designed such that they utilize guided practice. In this case, the teacher can provide initial practice on content that he/she has recently introduced. The learning center activities will include more cues and prompt as is deemed necessary. This scaffolding will eventually help the student’s complete tasks that they could not otherwise do on their own.
This paper set out to discuss the strengths and challenges presented by small group instruction and learning centers. To this end, the paper has detailed the various strengths and challenges that are inherent in these two strategies. This paper has also demonstrated the relationship between the two strategies with scaffolding and differentiating instruction. From this paper, it is clear that learning centers and small groups can be used to efficiently provide differentiated instructions to students. Scaffolding can also be used both in small group instruction and learning centers to increase the proficiency of students.
From the discussions presented herein it is evident that the two strategies result in some challenges to the students but especially to the teachers. In particular, the two strategies have been shown to require a lot of time and effort investment by the teacher who are hard pressed for time. Nevertheless, it has been shown that the strategies have great payoffs in terms of greatly improved student’s performance. It is therefore worthwhile for educators to bear with the challenges posed since the payoffs are great.
Hall, T., Strangman, N., & Meyer, A. (2003). “Differentiated instruction and implications for UDL implementation”. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum. Web.
Israel, S. E. (2005). Metacognition in literacy learning: theory, assessment, instruction, and professional development. Routledge.
King-Sears, M. E. (2007). “Designing and Delivering Learning Center Instruction”. Intervention in School and Clinic. Vol. 42, No. 3, pp.137-147.
McGee, M.L. & Morrow, M. L. (2005). Teaching literacy in kindergarten. Guilford Press.