Flexible grouping is helping gifted students at St Ursula’s College Kingsgrove hit their stride in a range of subjects. The strategy groups students within classes according to their ability, interest or readiness to do more within a topic. A group of 16 Newman teachers were trained in the technique by observing how their peers delivered lessons to students using flexible grouping – a process known as instructional rounds. All Newman teachers at the school have completed a mini Certificate of Gifted Education and have learnt different strategies to group students to extend their learning.
These included exit card tests, where students are given a few very short answer questions to assess their level of understanding of a topic at the end of a lesson, and coloured cards that differentiate skill levels. Write abouts, a free-writing exercise responding to a photograph, video or text, are also used.
Year 9 HSIE Newman teacher Amanda Safi used exit cards within a lesson on World War I, giving students a photograph to caption. Those who could provide an accurate and more detailed context for the photo were given the advanced work for the next lesson, the others core work.
“It allows for more personalised learning,” Miss Safi said. “The students feel like the assessment or activity is more aligned to their needs. In the lead up to the instructional rounds we said that the goal would be to focus on the skills rather than the content. Having [other teachers] in the classroom gave me that professional development in a more effective and guided way.”
Year 8 HSIE Newman teacher Christine Williams used the strategies to prepare a lesson on ecological sustainability.
“The extension girls did something different which compacted what the core kids were going to do but took their knowledge deeper,” she said. “Once they had answered that question there was another opportunity for them to choose their own adventure. They could either stay with the current level of difficulty or move up.
“Because these Newman students have an interest in the subject area it develops a very unique rapport kind of like what you’d expect at universities. Their hunger for knowledge is so refreshing.”
Year 9 PDHPE Newman teacher Elizabeth Constanton used grouping cards to get students to master a basic sports skill before moving on to a more complex one.
“During the lesson there was a lot of movement and discussion, and coloured cards going everywhere, but the girls really enjoyed it because it was something different,” she said.
“At certain times after that first lesson I would leave it up to them to decide whether they had mastered a skill. The girls were quite honest and there was an element of peer assessment.
“It placed the learning in their hands and moved away from being teacher directed. They took charge of it and went with it. Flexible grouping doesn’t mean the extension kids are doing more work. The tasks may be challenging in different ways.”