It's the end of the school year, and students have all your routines down. By now, it should be pretty easy to release students to do a good chunk of independent work – especially if you're using the Workshop Model. So how can you most effectively using your small group time?

Diagnosis: Sink or Swim

In my last post, I talked about getting students on computers for adaptive practice and diagnostics. Our prescribed schedule is an initial diagnostic, a mid-year diagnostic, and a year-end diagnostic. Initial helps me form groups and gives me a preview of what to expect. The mid-year diagnostic seems to come way before the middle of the year. But at least it shows me who is making progress. But this is before Winter Break. Kids almost always show tremendous growth when they return from break. And that leaves us what feels like a long stretch until the end of the year. Yes, it's about five months. So I squeeze in a third quarter diagnostic after Spring Break to see what we need to review.

Paint By Numbers

If you've ever had one of those Paint By Numbers coloring books, you know how easy they are to follow. They are very explicit in what you should do. Good diagnostics are also very clear in what you should do: Celebrate accomplishments, and focus on core skills. The diagnostics we use are pretty thorough: They do a good job of fleshing out lucky guesses and misunderstandings. So now you're left with specific deficiencies to work on.

A Few of my Favorite Things

I love Workshop Model because it forces me to not waste a lot of time when it's not necessary. Some students pick up on concepts quickly, some just need an explanation and time to experiment, and others need at least twice as much time as your top performers. We'll catch them up in small group time, my other favorite component of Workshop Model. If you use your data correctly, you can make specialized groups for specific skills. These can be students not together in the  groups you formed based on overall grade level performance. It might just be two students, or it could be five. If it's more than five (20% of the class), you need to revisit the concept as a whole-group lesson.

Does it Work?

It will probably work. And shouldn't take too long. Most students are missing one subtle aspect of the skill and need to refine their practice a little. Though you may discover they really struggle with a concept. And that's a red flag that there is an underlying problem you need to address. This is a good time to update your conferencing notes.

Lather, Rinse, Repeat

Keep an eye on your conferencing notes and students' ongoing adaptive learning with your software of choice. iReady lets me know when students are struggling or failing a concept. I call them back for a quick tuneup and send them back to work. As with my standard small-group rotations, these ad-hoc lessons have proven successful. My goal is to spend less time in whole group instruction and more time in individual and small group lessons.