Power in Numbers

Teachers like to be in control.  And because of that character trait, we like to talk a lot.  We have so much to share.  But, are we making sure that students are having multiple opportunities to talk about the content they are learning?  There is a quote that I’ve heard many times in the world of education, “The person doing the most talking is doing the most learning.”

So, how do we step back and allow students to take control?  One way is through flexible groupings.  Pairs, triads, random and assigned.  Based on readiness, mixed readiness, interest, or learning preference.

21st century skills highlight collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and problem solving.  What better way to practice those skills than in groups?

In the 1990’s, Spencer Kagan came up with a vast array of structures for cooperative learning in small groups.  These structures are just as powerful today as they were almost 20 years ago.

Some of my favorites are:

  • think-pair-share
  • jigsaw
  • inside-outside circles
  • placemat
  • four corners
  • talking chips

As far as grouping strategies, some of my favorites are clock buddies and grouping cards.  Here’s a set of 36 cards that have a multitude of uses:


For more resources on the topic of flexible grouping and grouping strategies, go to:



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Happy Grouping!


I collected the formative data… Now what?

Teachers are constantly collecting data.

1. I teach a concept. I see puzzled faces. I respond by switching the mode of presentation (ex. from oral to visual).
2. I collect student work. I notice considerable gaps in my students’ learning. I respond by creating an activity for the next class day with flexible groups tiered by readiness.

I’m intrigued by this phenomenon. Although it was a long time ago, I’m pretty sure that “responding to formative data” wasn’t a topic of study in any of my methods classes. So, how do teachers develop this menu of options to meet the needs of their learners?

For me, mostly through intuition and trial and error.

In this age of teacher evaluation tied to student growth, we cannot allow intuition and trial and error to drive our instructional decisions. How can I develop a menu of options to guide my decisions?

James Popham in his book, Transformative Assessment in Action: An Inside Look at Applying the Process (ASCD, 2011), he suggests several categories of responses to formative data:

A. Immediate instructional adjustments based on assessed performance
B. Immediate instructional adjustments based on student-reported understanding
C. Near-future instructional adjustments
D. Last-chance instructional adjustments
E. Students’ learning tactic adjustments
F. Classroom climate shifts

In response to this perceived gap in knowledge, I’ve created a wikipage of types of formative data teachers collect and possible ways a teacher might respond to it:


I’d love to add to this list. Please write your additions as comments to this post.