Small-group learning

The Tutor Learning Initiative (TLI) is driven by student learning need, with students ranging from those who already had additional learning needs prior to the period of remote and flexible learning in 2020 and 2021, to those students who were previously progressing at or above level, but whose learning progress was most impacted by remote and flexible learning in 2020 and 2021.

The pedagogical teaching practices of differentiation, personalisation and student-centred learning are the foundation for the specific interventions delivered as part of the Initiative. Current research suggests that small-group learning offered through focused, regular sessions with a trained teacher is a clear evidence-based approach for improving student learning outcomes in a timely manner (Grattan Institute, 2020).

This guidance outlines the benefits of small-group learning with information on how to plan and implement small-group learning to provide support to students who have been disadvantaged by remote and flexible learning.

This guidance includes:

  • an overview of small-group learning
  • implementation considerations for adopting small-group learning
  • practice approaches
  • improvement cycle guiding questions for tutors and teachers at each stage of small-group learning.

The Tutor Learning Initiative and the Framework for Improving Student Outcomes

Tutors working in teams with classroom teachers should draw on the Framework for Improving Student Outcomes (FISO) Improvement cycle to:

  • determine students point of need through a range of assessments (refer to previous chapter)
  • agree on learning goals with the student that can be achieved within a short cycle of learning
  • implement evidenced-based high impact strategies to progress the learning
  • evaluate learning progress regularly
  • and then determine degree of impact through a range of summative assessments.

Depending on learning progress, tutors in collaboration with classroom teachers will continue to adapt their strategies to ensure continued progress in learning outcomes.

About small-group learning

A systematic review of academic interventions intended to improve learning outcomes for disadvantaged students found that of the 14 interventions examined, tutoring was the most effective (Dietrichson et al, 2017).

The tutoring programs included in the research were often specific programs conducted in small groups of 5 students or fewer.

How does small-group learning fit in the broader context of targeted teaching and learning?

Effective small-group learning requires an evidence-based approach to differentiated teachingExternal Link . DifferentiationExternal Link involves the use of evidence to determine prior student learning, adjusting the learning process based on student learning need, monitoring ongoing learning progress and continuing to tailor learning to support further improvement.

Implementation considerations

The following should be considered when determining the implementation of small-group learning:

  • Build a positive relationship with students to better understand their interests, current levels of engagement, motivation, and overall comfort with the approach. This will enable tutors to address and strive to resolve any underlying concerns, such as embarrassment based on the perception that they are being provided with different work or have fallen behind.
  • Co-develop learning goals with each student to best support their learning needs. If the student has an Individual Education Plan (IEPs), ensure that the plan is up-to-date with Tutor Learning Initiative goals. Schools can decide to develop an IEP for all students receiving support from a tutor. Remember that developing an IEP is a collaborative effort, and students, parents or carers with relevant SSSO staff, where appropriate, must be consulted.
  • Use existing meetings times for tutors and classroom teachers to analyse data, jointly plan and document interventions and allow for tutor participation in Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).
  • Develop a collaborative teaching approach between the tutor and classroom teacher, delivered in a manner to support and accelerate student growth in their regular school program. The tutor teacher provides a singular focus on the identified students while the classroom teacher works to meet all students at their learning point of need.
  • Identify formative and summative assessments to be used for ongoing monitoring of student learning progress against their identified learning goals. The Student assessment and selection for support on PAL can support your school to determine appropriate assessments to use when implementing TLI.
  • Consider student learning confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing, especially if tutoring outside the class or selection for small-group learning is perceived negatively. Engage students and parents/carers in regular dialogue to allay concerns. Refer to the DET health and wellbeing check-in tool for further support.

Practice approaches

There are two main approaches for small-group tutoring that can be implemented across a range of different school contexts and student needs.

Practice Approach 1 — Tutoring in-class

  • Tutor attends regularly scheduled class to provide intensive, ongoing small-group or individual learning student.
  • Tutor reinforces classroom teacher instruction and supports regular classroom learning.
  • May teach mini lessons to the small-group, where appropriate, to support skills required in the whole-class setting.

Practice Approach 2 — Tutoring out-of-class

  • Small-group tutoring occurs out of class.
  • Students can remain in the classroom during introductory instruction and return to class at the conclusion of the lesson or students can be engaged in small-group tutoring for a whole class.
  • Depending on the student’s point of learning need, tutors can support students to make Tier 1 classroom learning more accessible by frontloading vocabulary or pre-teaching skills and concepts prior to a regular classroom lesson, which may enable students to be better prepared to access content.
  • However, some students may require support to develop skills and knowledge previously covered by the classroom teacher or in previous year levels, taking into account where they are at on the learning continuum, and to assist them to make progress and move towards the expected level of achievement.

Practice Approach 3 — Hybrid

  • A combination or adaptation of the above approaches.

Improvement cycle guiding questions for tutors and teachers at each stage of small-group learning

FISO improvement cycle: evaluate and diagnose, prioritise and set goals, develop and plan, implement and monitor

  • Key questions

    1. What do we know about each student’s engagement, wellbeing?
    2. What is each student’s current stage of knowledge, skill and understanding against different Victorian Curriculum learning areas?
    3. What professional learning does each tutor require to build on their existing knowledge and skills to address each student’s learning needs?

    Guiding principles

    • Small-group learning is most likely to be effective with up to five students of similar current learning attainment levels.
    • Creating a student-centred classroom environment is critical for student success. Refer to AmplifyExternal Link .

    Suggested strategies

    • The tutor is encouraged to meet with each student before the first session to start building relationships (Nickow et al. 2020).
    • Review student data and relevant evidence about the student’s learning to identify students’ current point of need. Refer to Assessment Guidance on PAL. Relevant data sources include:
    • Tutor and classroom teacher/s identify the most suitable evidenced-based interventions to address the targeted curriculum area for tutoring.
    • Tutors and classroom teachers then determine how the impact of this intervention on student learning will be assessed.
    • Tutors, with classroom teachers and support from school improvement staff or school leaders as required, consider the needs of their students and identify areas of additional professional learning they require to further their skills in supporting student learning and engagement. This may include literacy, numeracy or other identified learning needs, as well as the needs of students from specific cohorts (for example, Koorie, EAL, students with additional needs).
    • Tutors engage in relevant formal professional learning provided by the Department and school-based professional learning.
  • Key questions

    1. Where is the student’s next developmental progression, considering the student’s current zone of proximal development (ZPD) in the targeted curriculum area(s) as informed by a range of assessments?
    2. What are the students’ curriculum learning goals and priorities? How do students’ personal interests contribute to these priorities?
    3. What knowledge and skills will enable students to better access learning in the regular classroom?
    4. Have the students themselves, classroom teachers, and other relevant staff been engaged as we set goals?

    Guiding principles

    • Teachers and tutors should work in partnership with students, parents and carers, tutor’s and teachers/s, to develop individual goals based on the age and learning needs of the student using their Individual Education Plan (IEP).
    • Expectations, priorities, and goals should be clearly outlined in their IEP.
    • Students are likely to find it motivating to see their progress, so consider how tutors can track student progress while maintaining a low-stakes, comfortable environment.

    Suggested strategies

    • Following the review of each student's learning priorities, the tutor and classroom teacher meet with each student to set goals in conjunction with classroom teacher.
    • Set motivating but challenging goals for students, that are linked to the Victorian CurriculumExternal Link .
    • The tutor and student may use the SMART criteria when developing goals. They come to an agreement on when and how these will be measured, within a specific timeframe.
    • Tutors should establish with students the learning strategies that best suit each individual learner.
    • Through collaboration between the tutor and classroom teacher learning goals and progress are regularly monitored and adapted if progress is not being made.
  • Key questions

    1. How will we know that students are learning?
    2. What will implementation look like?
    3. Who else should we speak to, to help inform and strengthen this work?

    Guiding principles

    • Research indicates that 45-minute sessions, 2 to 4 times a week, lasting anywhere from 6 to 20 weeks is recommended. This will differ based on the local context and include student preference, age, learning needs and staffing arrangements.
    • By building a student-centred learning environment teachers can be responsive to student point of need while monitoring levels of engagement and disengagement.
    • It's important to reassure students of their learning potential, and that they will not be negatively impacted by their participation.

    Suggested strategies

    Planning a session
    • Develop tasks that motivate and challenge students.
    • Plan for explicit instruction that models new knowledge, understanding and skills for students and gives them opportunity to practice these skills to competency and mastery (Hattie, J 2009). This will look different for each learner, based on their need and strategies that suit their needs.
    • Plan to chunk concepts or texts into manageable pieces supporting scaffolding of learning and consideration of working memory (NSW Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation, 2017).
    • Give students thinking time and encourage them to talk through their thinking strategies. Metacognition is important to enable students to gain an awareness of their thinking processes during learning, Tutors should also model their own metacognitive strategies to make their thinking approach explicit to students.
    • Identify sources of student dataExternal Link that will support monitoring of student learning growth against the curriculum, such as formative assessmentExternal Link rubrics and strategies.
    • The classroom teacher and tutor can refer to guidance and resources available through the formal professional learning suite for tutors, to plan sessions for students from specific cohorts (for example, students with additional needs, EAL and Koorie students). Tutors can also access advice from relevant organisations to support their work with specific students — for example, advice from the Centre for Multicultural Youth outlines strategies for supporting EAL students.
  • Key questions

    1. To what extent are we using differentiated strategies in our tutoring work?
    2. How are we monitoring our implementation?

    Guiding principles

    • Monitor with regular formative and summative assessments to measure student outcomes and growth and share with students their learning progress.
    • Tutor to maintain regular lines of communication with classroom teacher, school leadership, parents/carers to ensure adequate implementation support.

    Suggested strategies

    • Identify student readiness for the task.
    • Activate new knowledge through prior knowledge (Munro, 2005).
    • Introduce students to key vocabulary and skills for upcoming lesson (Munro, 2005).
    • Learn each procedure or concept separately (Munro, 2005).
    • Give students lots of opportunities to practice procedure and repeat new learnings to competency and mastery.
    • Monitor student learning regularly and frequently check for student understanding.
    • Provide students with frequent task-based feedback.
    • Develop the student’s confidence to assist their capacity to learn. Draw on relevant resources and guidance available through the formal professional learning suite for tutors, to ensure the needs of students from specific cohorts (CALD, Koorie, students with additional needs) are met.
    • Make student progress visible to enhance motivation, either in small-group settings, individually or with parents and carers.
    • Maintain regular communication with parents/carers of participating students.
Tutor Learning Initiative: Implementation Guidance chapter on small-group learning implementation and practice approaches.

Reviewed 14 April 2022

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