It can be easy to fall into the trap of being the “sage on the stage” when teaching at the secondary level. Many higher-level concepts require extensive explanation, and it can be tempting to stand at the front and lecture to the whole group when presenting information. Unfortunately for many students with LDs, this method of instruction can cause difficulty in focusing, and they can feel overwhelmed or as though they are missing things, leading to further anxiety. Changing the style of grouping for instruction can benefit all students, but can be essential in supporting secondary students with LDs.

Teachers in a group huddle

An easy way to remember the different types of grouping is by using the acronym TAPS:

  • T – Total group

Best for introducing new concepts through explicit instruction or reviewing learning for the day. Whole class discussion is also done as a group, but measures should be taken to ensure students are supported in following the conversation and not put on the spot for answers.

  • A – Alone

Working alone can be challenging for students with LDs, but it is essential for them to practice working on concepts independently to solidify their learning. Teachers can also use this time to check in with students and see what support they need and what gaps still exist in their understanding. Be aware that too much time working alone in silence can cause anxiety for some students with LDs, as they may think that all their classmates are “getting it” while they feel as though they are falling behind.

  • P – Pairs

Pairings can be used for many activities in class, such as brainstorming, summarizing, and revision. It is important to keep pairing structured and strategic so that students are not paired with someone who may distract them and to eliminate the risk of anyone being “left out”. This is a perfect time for students to go back over concepts or to formulate questions they may still have, as it is less intimidating to discuss with only one other person. The Think-Pair-Share model (Lyman, 1981) is a way to allow students with processing issues more time to formulate ideas and participate more readily in class discussions.

  • S – Small group

Groups work well for completing projects or for revision and study time. Strategic grouping is essential. The secondary teacher can choose to group by similar ability and work closely with those needing additional support, or they can mix ability in hopes of informal peer tutoring. It is essential to assign all those in the group a clear role so students all know the action to take and how they will contribute to the work.

(Saskatchewan Ministry of Education, 2009)

The most important thing is variety, as each style of grouping has its own benefits and drawbacks. Similarly, every student with LDs is unique and has a particular way in which they learn best. By frequently alternating between the different types of groupings, students can discover their favourite way to learn and develop some skills that may be weaker.