What is Flexible Grouping?

Catering teaching to fit every student’s needs can be difficult because of large classrooms or the wide diversity of students that exist within a single classroom. To overcome this challenge, many educators today are using a method known as flexible grouping. Flexible Grouping is a differentiated instruction strategy in which teachers strategically group students to work together based on factors such as student readiness, interest, or learning style. It is often used for tasks such as labs or projects, literature circles, and leveled math groups. “Flexible” grouping differentiates itself from “static” grouping in that it emphasizes fluidity — students are periodically reassessed and accordingly regrouped every few weeks.

Flexible grouping is a strategy that has been proven successful. A 2013 National Bureau of Economic Research study of students flexibly grouped by ability found that high and low performing students both significantly improved in math and reading. Similarly, from our experience working with educators over the years, we have found that many have mentioned flexible grouping as a key to their success. Angie Wright, an elementary school teacher in central Ohio saw her students’ test scores skyrocket when she implemented flexible grouping using a digital assessment tool like Edulastic:

“When I saw the [state test] scores, I didn’t think they were real. I was completely surprised and blown away…the growth was so high that I realized that it had to do with the fact that I used flexible grouping, and I had used Edulastic for my formative assessments.” 

Angie Wright

What makes flexible grouping so impactful? We’ve compiled a few widely proven benefits below.

Benefits of Flexible Grouping

Responsive to Student Needs

When teachers group students by specific needs, they can provide more differentiated and customized instruction to each student group. Flexible grouping differentiates itself from the rigidity of the tracking system by emphasizing fluidity: students are periodically reevaluated, allowing teachers to design tasks responsive to students’ changing needs.

Fosters Teamwork Ability

When students are frequently regrouped to work with different peers, they are exposed to a wide variety of new perspectives. By working together with people of different backgrounds and experiences, students learn to understand others’ divergent perspectives. In this way, students learn to listen to and communicate with different personalities. 

Builds Community

Adults and students of all ages naturally gravitate towards interacting more with people from similar backgrounds. Flexible grouping brings together a variety of students from who wouldn’t necessarily normally interact. It also places students in smaller group settings with peers, where they often feel more comfortable getting to know each other and contributing their own ideas.

How to Create Flexible Groups

Perhaps one of the most effective ways to flexibly group students is by skills mastery, as it allows teachers to provide more individualized instruction to each student group based on what they have and haven’t mastered. This form of flexible grouping requires frequent student assessment and comprehensive analysis of student results, which can be done more easily with digital assessment tools such as Edulastic. 

Below is a summary of 6th grade ELA Teacher Kristina Acevedo’s grouping process for reading specifically. This demonstrates one way flexible grouping may be assisted by insights from digital assessment.

  1. Focus on Skill-Based Instruction: Teach a daily skill/strategy related to a specific standard, and provide students time to practice the skills during independent reading and stations activities.
  2. Conduct Biweekly Skills Checks: Students can take a skill check quiz on Edulastic using the Passage-Based Question option, which will generate instant data for teachers to analyze.
  3. Analyze the Data: Use Edulastic’s data analytics dashboard to find patterns in student mastery. 
  4. Form Guided Reading Groups: Use the data from your bi-weekly skills check to form guided reading groups based on specific skill mastery rather than by guided reading level. These fluid groups can change every week or even every few weeks depending on students’ skills mastery.

Check out Kristina’s grouping process article for more details.

What Are You Waiting For?

Flexible grouping is a powerful strategy. The immediate data from digital assessments on Edulastic can provide guidance for creating effective student groupings. Try flexible grouping in your classroom!