What is the Best Way to Organize a Classroom for Reading Instruction?

  • small group instruction
  • 13 April, 2024

Teacher question:

One of our younger teachers saw you speak, and she says you discouraged the use of small group instruction. She has been trying to teach her lessons to the whole class. I assume that she didn’t understand what you were saying because everybody knows small group instruction is the best way to teach reading. I’ve been a teacher for 18 years and I would appreciate it if you would respond so I could set her straight, I think she could be a fine teacher.
Thank you.

RELATED: Does Research Support “Guided Reading?” Practical Advice on Directing Reading

Shanahan responds:

I think I’m going to disappoint you. Your colleague probably heard me right.

I encourage teachers to try to minimize the amount of small group instruction.

That doesn’t mean that we should ban that configuration or mandate whole class teaching. There are enough situations in which small group instruction makes a lot of sense. But we tend to overdo this small group thing. Many teachers (and other educators) feel like you do, that it is the “best way to teach reading” or anything else for that matter.

That just isn’t the case, hence my desire to not overdo things when it comes to organizing a classroom.

Studies do find small group instruction to offer some benefits, at least under certain circumstances (Lou, et al., 1996). For instance, small group math instruction seems to deliver positive benefits – both larger and more consistent learning payoffs than in reading.

Reading studies often report that the amount of small group instruction confers no advantages or at best very small advantages (e.g., Hong & Hong, 2009; Patrick, 2020; Slavin, 1987), but when researchers drill down a bit it turns out to be a bit more complicated (Sørensen & Hallinan, 1986). For instance, research finds that kids are more likely to learn what is taught in a small group than in the whole class. I suspect that is often true, and it is what you are responding to. You can see that kids are really getting it when you are teaching small configurations of students.

However, that advantage get balanced out against the reduction in instruction that is required in most small group situations. In most circumstances, students don’t learn much away from the teacher. It is difficult to come up with seatwork activities that lead to much gain, except possibly for the highest achieving kids (Connor, et al., 2013).

That means that while grouping may increase the proportion of a lesson that students may master, it also means that there is much less opportunity to learn because so much less can be taught in the reduced time.

Think about it this way. Let’s say you have a 90-minute reading block and you have decided to teach three groups of students during 1-hour of that block. That means that students may learn a great deal of what you teach them during their 20 minutes, but they are not likely to be taught very much during that other 40 minutes. Of course, they probably won’t get the full benefit of those small group periods either because of the transition time and the times when you must stop teaching to manage the kids who aren’t in the group.

Surveys say that three group estimate is about average (Ford & Opitz, 2008). There are teachers who only work with two groups and there are those who work with 4, 5, or more. As the number of groups goes up, opportunity for learning goes down since students receive fewer and fewer minutes with the teacher.

I’m not willing to give up on groups because there are times when I need to supercharge my teaching briefly. These days absentee rates are high in our schools (a tragedy), so there are situations when I may need to reteach something that several students missed yesterday.

There are also those lessons that seem to go awry. Some of the kids got it, but many didn’t, so I plan on reteaching this tomorrow to those in need.

Certainly, there are circumstances, such as in math, where some kids are still on double digit addition and others are ready for multiplication. Given how sequential math is, it makes sense to ensure that foundation is sound. Most reading lessons don’t work like that, so grouping for skills isn’t as necessary.

The major way that reading tends to be grouped is around different books that the students are to read. Some children can read a fourth-grade book without too much trouble, while others may struggle with the second-grade book. Teachers have long been admonished to teach reading at the students’ reading levels, so that tends to end up with one group reading a fourth-grade book and the other reading one from second grade.

More and more, I have concluded that we overdo those separations, and can teach most kids with their grade level book – meaning that we could reduce the amount of small group reliance quite a bit (Shanahan, 2013, 2020). That would mean more time for teacher directed reading and other direct instruction lessons and fluency practice, which would be a real plus for most kids.

Grouping does not have a main effect on learning (Hiebert, 1987). It is beneficial only to the extent that it improves instruction in ways that really make a difference.

  • Small group teaching can matter – if it facilitates effective differentiation with students properly matched to curriculum and when teaching those skills separately really supports better learning.
  • Small group instruction should improve teachers’ ability to monitor learning, too. It’s easier to notice a puzzled look with six kids than with 25. That should mean that it fosters greater intensity of instruction.
  • Small group instruction should facilitate participation or interaction. For instance, a larger proportion of students should be able to respond to teacher questions, since there are fewer peers to compete with for that attention.

But small group instruction must confer those advantages to an extent that overbalances the reduction in teaching that it necessitates. If it doesn’t do that, then it’s just a waste of time.

Quite often I see grouping schemes that provide none of these advantages: the differentiation is unnecessary or trivial. Teachers are trying to correct for student diversity that doesn’t matter or that would not undermine a less differentiated lesson. Or situations in which the intensity seems no greater, or the amount of student engagement no higher.

Of course, the assumption seems to be that whole class instruction is a problem and grouping is the solution to that problem. Classroom configuration is not a problem; the problems are whether we are teaching students what they need to learn, whether we are teaching enough and whether we are making sure that everyone gets it, that everyone is paying attention and is engaged.

Perhaps instead of focusing on how to get rid of whole class instruction, teachers would do better to think about how whole class instruction could be better implemented to address some of those pedagogical needs.

Some investigations have shown how especially low readers can get lost in whole class instruction (Schumm, et al., 2000), and that makes sense. But the solution to that is not necessarily to reduce the amount of teaching markedly to ensure that these students get at least a modicum of instructional attention. Teachers need to be aware that those students’ needs are often neglected both in whole class and small group teaching, and the importance of keeping their needs in mind as they deliver lessons – monitoring them closely, making sure to hold their attention, and making adjustments and modifications to meet their needs, whether that is adding some explanation or emphasizing a feature the other students might not require. 

How can classroom seating be rearranged to ensure maximum attention and participation? (Individual desks in rows and columns seems to reduce inattention and facilitate greater cognitive engagement, for instance; but it is important to consider the purpose of the activity, too).

How can teacher placement and movement facilitate learning?

How can differences in students’ abilities or knowledge be facilitated without trying to teach everyone something different?

How can student participation be increased with techniques like multiple response cards, random student selection techniques, turn and talk, and so on?

Again and again, studies find that small group teaching either leads to no increase in learning or to very small increases. The reason for that is that it’s possible for teachers to address well these kinds of instructional needs no matter the configuration, so it isn’t the grouping that makes the difference.

I’m aware that some teachers aren’t providing lots of small group instruction because they believe that to be best. No, their curriculum director or principal believes it, or maybe it is one of the senior teachers at the school who weighs in. Some schools even require that teachers schedule a specific amount of small group teaching. That makes little sense. It’s sort of like insisting that teachers wear a red sweater at least two mornings a week. Neither approach is likely to do much for children’s reading achievement.

Let’s be more strategic than that… using pedagogical tools purposefully and wisely. That’s how you raise reading achievement.


Connor, C. M, Morrison, F. J., Fishman, B., Crowe, E. C., Al Otaiba, S., & Schatschneider, C. (2013). A longitudinal cluster-randomized controlled study on the accumulating effects of individualized literacy instruction on students’ reading from first through third grade. Psychological Science 24(8), 1408-1419.  https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797612472204

Ford, M. P., & Opitz, M. F. (2008) A national survey of guided reading practices: What we can learn from primary teachers. Literacy Research and Instruction, 47(4), 309-331. 


Hiebert, E. H. (1987). The context of instruction and student learning: An examination of Slavin’s assumptions. Review of Educational Research, 57(3), 337–340. https://doi.org/10.2307/1170461

Hong, G., & Hong, Y. (2009). Reading instruction time and homogeneous grouping in kindergarten: An application of marginal mean weighting through stratification. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 31(1), 54-81. https://doi.org/10.3102/0162373708328259

Lou, Y., Abrami, P. C., Spence, J. C., Poulsen, C., Chambers, B., & d’Apollonia, S. (1996). Within-class grouping: A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 66, 423–458. https://doi.org/10.2307/1170650

Patrick, S. K. (2020). Homogeneous grouping in early elementary reading instruction: The challenge of identifying appropriate comparisons and examining differential associations between grouping and reading growth. Elementary School Journal, 120(4), 611-635. https://doi.org/10.1086/708666

Schumm, J. S., Moody, S. W., & Vaughn, S. (2000). Grouping for reading instruction: Does one size fit all? Journal of Learning Disabilities, 33(5), 477-488. https://doi.org/10.1177/002221940003300508

Shanahan, T. (2013). Letting the text take center stage. American Educator, 37(3), 4-11, 43.

Shanahan, T. (2020). Limiting children to books they can already read. American Educator, 44(2), 13-17, 39.

Slavin, R. E. (1987a). Ability grouping and student achievement in elementary schools: A best-evidence synthesis. Review of Educational Research, 57(3), 293-336. https://doi.org/10.2307/1170460

Sørensen, A. B., & Hallinan, M. T. (1986). Effects of ability grouping on growth in academic achievement. American Educational Research Journal, 23(4), 519-542. https://doi.org/10.2307/1163088



LISTEN TO MORE: Shanahan On Literacy Podcast


See what others have to say about this topic.

Mary Clare Apr 12, 2024 01:49 PM

Hello! I appreciate that this post challenges some of my assumptions about teaching reading. I'm wondering where you see MTSS fitting within the reading block?

Timothy Shanahan Apr 12, 2024 10:30 PM

That will depend upon the IEPs for the individual students in a given class. In any event, given the mixed results from small group instruction, I would not automatically require small group teaching of students for MTSS (though I very well might for some). Treating small group instruction as the universal answer to learning problems has not proven beneficial to students (which may be part of the reason why MTSS has not done so well itself in the research). What we want for those students in need is not small group instruction, but effectiveness. Sometimes that requires very different content coverage (though that is usually best addressed in a pull out Tier 2 response) and if the teacher is required to provide that then small group teaching would be necessary.

Matt Apr 13, 2024 02:41 AM

Tim, what are your thoughts on Sharon Walpole's differentiated instructional model? In her model, all students receive grade level tier 1 instruction which focuses on comprehension, fluency and vocabulary, and all students also receive small group teaching according to foundational skills needs at a different time in the day. For instance, groups are formed around student decoding and/fluency needs identified via assessments. When these foundations are in place, students' small group learning consists of directed reading activities.

Timothy Shanahan Apr 13, 2024 02:48 AM

Big fan.


Donald Potter Apr 13, 2024 02:36 PM

As a elementary classroom teacher for 30 years, I did very little small group treaching; but now as a full time tutor (semi-retired), I do almost entirely one on one. The advantages for struggling students is nothing less than astounding. I use a combination of intensive phonics practice (Phonovisual Charts + Rudolf Flesch's 72 Exercises) and reading in the recently reprinted 1957 (original 1937) Alice & Jerry readers which feature precise vocabulary controls and strict frequency controls. It is a small step from there to successful independent reading. I agree with your assessment. It depends on the situation.

Jayme Apr 13, 2024 02:51 PM

I teach 1st grade and am completing my reading specialist degree. I completely agree. I had kids still working on cvc and others reading at a 3rd grade level. I increased my whole group grade level instruction and included more fluency drills, and oral reading practice with grade level materials. I knew my lower kids were stuck and it has been a game changer. I have seen more growth in the last month than all year!

Tara Apr 13, 2024 02:52 PM

What are your thoughts about small group in a mixed k-2 classroom? Would you still do whole group?

Linda Diamond Apr 13, 2024 03:28 PM

Actually, according to several researchers including studies by aught and Hoover small group instruction for word recognition is actually quite useful where students are grouped by skill not level. The difficulty is avoiding having too many groups for a teacher to manage and not ha e some students doing busy work. Success For All, Reading Mastery, SIPPS all use small group instruction for this purpose with purposeful pla event tests. They almost always use a walk- to-read approach so no one teacher more than 2 groups. Students get many more opportunities to respond with immediate feedback ( Hattie) . Certainly grouping in a guided reading level approach is not what we want but small group instruction has proven highly effective even in peer reviewed studies of those programs mentioned. It prevents students who already decode and read chapter books from starting at the beginning again and not growing and it enables struggling readers to have targeted instruction from the start and double dosing if needed so they can accelerate to grade level faster. But what we don't want is useless seat time activities. Carol Connor's research also supported this type of differentiation, especially for word recognition.

Ann Christensen Apr 13, 2024 04:08 PM

At the kindergarten and first grade level where play has all but disappeared, children who are not with the teacher can learn from Legos, blocks, marble mazes, puzzles, etc. The activities that engage their minds and support self-regulation and social development are an important use of time. Time away from teacher instruction at theses early grades doing ‘seat work’ is largely a waste both for the children who can easily complete it and the children who struggle. Play dough, clay, drawing, and beads and such support handwriting development and creativity.
Further, a small group routine often turns into low intensity, poorly planned time. Teaching 1/2 to 1/3 of the class at a time can increase their engagement in whole group instruction if teaching for engagement and transfer is incorporated.
‘Paying attention and engaging’ are prerequisites to whole group learning. That is different than sitting still /looking at the teacher, complying with physical expectations. Keeping children cognitively engaged (learning) is the teachers’ job. If we spent as much time worrying about cognitive activity as we do about sitting still, teaching/learning would look quite different.

Rachel Nicholas Apr 13, 2024 04:17 PM

Does the effectiveness of small groups increase if all groups in a classroom are meeting with teachers (I.e. a walk to read model). This is in addition to whole class foundational skills instruction and whole class knowledge building instruction. I absolutely agree that if one teacher is meeting with small groups and students are left on their own for 30-40 minutes a day there isn’t a ton of instruction happening. If however, students are all working with adults and receiving differentiated instruction based on data, wouldn’t that change?

Jen Apr 13, 2024 04:42 PM

I recently read this article from IRRC, Rethinking How We Teach Literacy in Tier 1: Targeted, Small-Group Instruction

There is so much conflicting information. Help

Dr. Bill Conrad Apr 13, 2024 04:43 PM

It’s always refreshing to see Tim’s evidence-based recommendations for reading instruction with lots of real world applications that teachers can relate to!

Kudos to Tim for making reading instruction more effective and more easily accessible!

For years I bought into the teacher on the side for “effective” science teaching when I should have been promoting more sage on the stage!

Tammy Apr 13, 2024 05:42 PM

Dr. Shanahan,
As usual, your post is timely, as I have been grappling with this concept over the last few months. I teach pre service teachers and recently I was in a professional development session with Linda Diamond. She said that you shouldn’t teach word recognition in whole group. Nearby districts have started implementing UFLI whole group in their K-2 classrooms. Many also have a 30 minute designated small group time where students who require additional instruction, more practice with a skill, or reteaching get a small group (sometimes with the teacher, sometimes with an interventionist). I’ve been trying to find research that supports this model because I believe it to be successful. ( I know beliefs don’t cut it, but the data looks good as well.) Last year, I worked at a school that only provided word recognition in a small group setting. What we found is it created gaps. All made progress but only 2 groups got through the recommended scope and sequence. The grouping was based on data, but the pace felt like gate keeping to me. What are your thoughts and suggestions?

Debbie Meyer Apr 13, 2024 06:26 PM

When some students need more or less repetition/practice of their decoding skills or fluency skills, how can that be delivered without intentional small groups? Hopefully the small groups will have closed the gaps among students sufficiently by 3rd grade so whole group is very effective.

Timothy Shanahan Apr 13, 2024 09:44 PM


I assume you are asking about a multi-grade classroom. Sometimes those are assembled with the purpose of putting together students with like-skills levels. If that is the case, then, indeed, I would still try to limit my small group instruction to what is necessary. However, I also know schools that have multigrade classes because of enrollment numbers. If that is your case, then I see no way around grouping since you need to teach different curricula to each.


Timothy Shanahan Apr 13, 2024 09:48 PM


There is no question that small group instruction can be powerful. However, when it is put up against whole class instruction it does not better repeatedly in the studies (pulling kids out to work with another teacher is a different thing altogether -- or having the teacher teach a small group of struggling students while another does not usually has small group doing best, but it ignores the rest of the students). Walking reading can improve on that because it sacrifices much less class time. Carol's work showed that some kids benefit from being taught decoding skills and that it is not useful to reteach those skills to the rest of the class. The boys and girls who have accomplished decoding can learn from various assignments and activities away from the teacher.


Timothy Shanahan Apr 13, 2024 09:50 PM


Definitely walking reading has better research support because it reduces instruction to a lesser extent.


Timothy Shanahan Apr 13, 2024 09:52 PM


The key to sorting this out is to consider what is being compared. Comparing how certain kids do in a small group versus a whole class usually will find small group to be superior for those particular kids (but this is not always true). However, comparing how the classes do when they are either taught whole class versus small group (and measuring the impact on all kids) tends to be a wash -- no obvious benefit.


Timothy Shanahan Apr 13, 2024 09:54 PM


The research agrees with you on this. Grouping allows for intensification (allows for, doesn't guarantee) but it comes at a great cost because it often/usually requires a reduction in amount of teaching.


Jo-Anne Gross Apr 13, 2024 10:17 PM

I am encouraging small group pull out for #Dyslexia students.
We are doing it in over 170 schools and the results on our provincial assessments show tremendous benefits.The schools have taken it upon themselves to start doing pull out with specially trained teachers all the way to gr 7-8 bc principals are reporting so many students that can`t read or spell properly.
They are trained for 2 days in the Remediation Plus curriculum and go from school to school to see kids 4 times per week for 30 minutes.The lesson plan is an hour.We do 30-30.Approximately 4 students in a group.

Barbara Schub Apr 13, 2024 11:37 PM

It seems that this would also be impacted by class size. Doing small groups in a class of 20 would be different than a class of 30 just from a time management stand point.

Kat Apr 14, 2024 02:06 AM

I was thinking about the implications this has on small class size in a multi age room where the skills are relatively similar ( 5 Preps age 5, 3 grade 1s aged 6 and 2 grade 2s age 7.
Whole class tier 1 certainly of greater benefit, followed by small group for the preps, including other students requiring extra review/targeted practice. The remaining grade 1 and 2 working on independent practice and one on one with trained TA for any that need targeted support.
Whole class is still the key with grouping when needed, based on what students need.
This is how I am interpreting the information presented here. Am I on the right path?

Jacob Apr 14, 2024 02:22 AM

Dr. Shanahan-

I love this blog! As I read this, I found myself thinking about every elementary school I've worked at/with that have shared they do not have enough time to teach science and/or social studies- yet they have time to do small group reading instruction every day. You've described the trade off of small groups- such as the students not being met with who receive busywork- but also the missed opportunities to teach all subject areas. Can you speak to the effectiveness of consistent science and social studies instruction when it comes to literacy achievement?

Timothy Shanahan Apr 15, 2024 10:14 PM


I have probably asked for, recommended, demanded, and required more reading/writing instruction than any other human being on the planet. For instance, I required 2-3 hours of such instruction in a major urban school district with the fewest minutes available for instruction. However, I, too, would argue for substantial protection in the teaching of elementary social studies, science, and mathematics (and, even the arts). We tend to waste a good deal of reading instruction on things like unnecessary grouping in which teachers teach and reteach the same d*** thing over and over-- and then complain that we don't have enough time to teach anything else. The average school day in the U.S. is 6.5 hours. If teachers teach reading/writing/spelling for 2 hours and math for 1 hours, please explain to me why we have no time for art, music, physical education, social studies, and science (my math says there should be 3.5 hours for those things each day or 17.5 hours per week)?


Ann Christensen Apr 15, 2024 11:32 PM

Your summary of the day excludes phonics programs that are added on to the 2 hour reading block so that's another 20-30 minutes. Then there is an hour for lunch and recess, 50 minutes for specials (art, music, etc.), 30 minutes for morning orientation and afternoon pack and clean-up. That's another 2 hours and 20 minutes leaving a little more than an hour a day. Trying to shoehorn in anything else is difficult. Science and social studies are missing in so many classrooms, so many schools. The effects on reading comprehension are predictable. Yikes!

Deann L Gross Apr 15, 2024 11:56 PM

Hi. As I read your post I could help but keep thinking about Hattie's research where he reports small group instruction to have a medium to large effect size on learning at .49 %. It places this type of instruction in the zone of desired effects. Can you speak to this in regard to your blog post please. I need clarification.

Timothy Shanahan Apr 16, 2024 01:25 AM

Hattie reports that effect size, but he doesn't make any corrections for time differences. Small group instruction outperforms whole class instruction when you compare them head-to-head, but it loses that advantage when you consider that the whole class instruction will be for an hour, and the small group instruction will only be for 20 minutes. That washes away the effect.


Timothy Shanahan Apr 16, 2024 01:29 AM

First of all, why would you add phonics to a 2 hour reading block. It is and always was supposed to be part of that block -- that time is not being used well. And, who needs a 30 minute morning orientation?, what a waste of children's time. I just got 1 hour back in your daily schedule. I think you'll be able to get 2.5 hours of science and 2.5 hours of social studies per week right there. What you're saying is that there are other things that you would rather be doing during the school day than teaching.

Timothy Shanahan Apr 16, 2024 03:32 PM

You are correct that these issues may play out differently in different size classrooms (one would think, the smaller the classroom, the less the reliance on small group instruction). Likewise, research has demonstrated that the number/percentage of low readers or poor performing students matters in these calculations as well: the more low readers, the more likely teachers will revert to small groups. In a classroom of 25 students, with 5 low readers.... a teacher is likely to have two groups (or whole class instruction, with additional work for one small group). However, in a class of 25 students with 17 low readers, the teacher may end up with 3 or 4 groups (2 or 3 groups with low readers -- all possibly doing the same work) and one other group. In the first instance, there might be little benefit to doing away with the small group instruction, but in the second, a real effort should be made to reduce this grouping by using practices that make larger group instruction particularly useful.


Timothy Shanahan Apr 16, 2024 03:48 PM

Class size does play a role in the number of groups that teachers create (when left to their own devices -- see my response to Kat above). However, these days with administrators ordering small group instruction, class size matters very little in the equation since teachers just need to be seen teaching small groups for the allotted time -- no matter numbers or levels.


Christy Apr 16, 2024 05:37 PM

You mentioned, "Individual desks in rows and columns seems to reduce inattention and facilitate greater cognitive engagement, for instance." When I was in the classroom teaching middle school, this is how my seating was arranged. I found it gave me easy access to all students, helped with classroom management, but was flexible enough that I could easily put them in pairs or groups when beneficial. Is there any research to support this? Since I left the classroom for a district office position, most of our seating has changed to collaborative table groups, but I'm wondering if that's the best way to go, or if it doesn't really matter that much in the long run.

Timothy Shanahan Apr 16, 2024 06:06 PM


Indeed, there is a small amount of research supporting that claim that I made (I came across it when I was writing this blog entry).


Ann Christensen Apr 17, 2024 03:34 AM

The whole class 95% Phonics, OG, or Heggerty are district requirements. These minutes are not counted in the reading block. I agree it is incorrect and undermines the teaching for transfer as teachers see the phonics lesson as outside the reading block. The 30 minutes was for BOTH morning orientation and afternoon clean up, pack up, and dismissal. Sorry for that misunderstanding. I agree, no one needs 30 minutes of morning orientation.
Your summary, “What you're saying is that there are other things that you would rather be doing during the school day than teaching,” is incorrect.
What I am saying is that my work shows me that teachers are under enormous time pressures. What is mandated, tested, included in teacher evaluation gets attention. Content areas and writing instruction are most often lost in primary classrooms.
Before my current coaching work, I taught children and teachers from 1977-2023. There is nothing I would rather be doing with my days than teaching.

Timothy Shanahan Apr 17, 2024 12:12 PM


Happy to hear it. Hope you have luck in changing some of those terrible policies.


Kate White Apr 17, 2024 04:36 PM

This really resonated with me and affirmed what 15 years of experience has already taught me. Smalls groups have their place, but for me whole class instruction is far more effective overall for the many reasons you outlined. I've noticed that usually focus is the key factor in a student's ability to make gains, and while those focus needs can be better addressed in a small group, they are always neglected if the teacher is working with any other group. In a whole class setting I can use my tricks to keep those students as engaged as possible. If they're doing "independent work", they're typically doing nothing at best, or distracting others at worst.

Sarah Boulanger Apr 19, 2024 09:02 PM

“Best”/“Current” trends written about in education I see as a pendulum—teachers really just need to be the balls in the middle.

To me that means reading the actual research, applying what is relevant, and doing their own data analysis on your action research results. Then repeat—each student, class, year is its own—life is fluid; the variables are constantly changing.

The most important thing is to know your students as individuals. If you know what their needs and interests are, you can provide for their needs and engage their interests.

When you focus more on guiding your students on HOW to learn, rather than being finicky about WHAT they learn, you create the capacity for lifelong learning and growth.

It’s kinda like the saying, you can give a man a fish, it will feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he will be fed for life.

Actually applying the science of reading is a fine art!

Morgan Whitney Apr 24, 2024 02:50 PM

Hi Tim,
This post and the comments are leading me down some interesting thought processes. I know that reading instruction is your focus, but I am wondering if, in your research, you have come across information about small group v. whole group instruction in math. One of my continual goals as a teacher and now Literacy and RtI specialists, is to make sure that students are not missing out on grade level content because of missing skills or disabilities. It happens across content and a big reason is too much differentiation and small groups and not enough thoughtfully scaffolded and accessible (UDL) whole group instruction.


Timothy Shanahan Apr 24, 2024 04:09 PM

I have, and the research on small group instruction in math is much more positive (in fact, some reading scholars cite those math studies as proof that small group instruction works best in reading). I think it makes sense that highly differentiated instruction is beneficial in math (or at least in arithmetic) given the clear sequence of skills that must be mastered. Being able to teach addition to the kids who have not yet mastered that, while teaching subtraction and multiplication to other groups makes sense. Reading skills are not as separable and there is not as clear a sequence of learning that must be accomplished.


What Are your thoughts?

Leave me a comment and I would like to have a discussion with you!

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What is the Best Way to Organize a Classroom for Reading Instruction?


One of the world’s premier literacy educators.

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