PLUS Groups Provide Extra Instruction

By Becky Herberger | Published May 2, 2014 | The Bolton Independent

PLUS is what it sounds like – it’s extra instructional time built into the academic school week that is based on the needs of students.  The PLUS group concept has evolved over the last two years and Florence Sawyer School Assistant Principal Alana Cyr explained what it’s all about.

After the analysis of data from testing such as AIMSweb and MCAS, school administrators and teachers collectively saw a need to build extra time into the six-day cycle and created PLUS groups.  PLUS is a district program, but each school has its own model with variations.

At FSS, PLUS groups are based on student needs for remediation, enrichment, or interests in which students excel.  All students in grades one through seven, and some eighth-graders, participate in the PLUS program.

The PLUS pilot took place in November 2012.  During that year, groups stayed fairly consistent and remained with the same teacher and subject areas.  Cyr said, “What we learned from that is, just like our students change and grow and their needs shift, that we needed to do that with our PLUS groups.”  So in fall 2013, groups began to run on approximately eight-week cycles.

Teacher grade-level teams discuss student needs and placement at each cycle change, so PLUS groups can look very different from one grade to the next.  Student needs are assessed through ongoing data analysis, classroom observations, teacher feedback, and information tracked during PLUS time.  These factors determine whether or not a child will switch groups and the changeover and, if so, where he/she will go.  Cyr explained, “We try to really design the groups around academic needs as they change over the course of the year.”

Each group consists of no more than six students that have very similar needs.  During instruction times, further personalization takes place for each students within each group.  Cyr shared an example, “I had a second-grade group and we were working on comprehension, and they weren’t all at the same reading level.  They wanted to research natural disasters, volcanoes and earthquakes, so when I went and picked out the books, I got leveled-readers that met their individual needs.  So we were all working on the same topic, but then I individualized it that way.”

In addition to groups based on remediation and enrichment, there are also interest-based groups.  FSS Principal Joel Bates worked with a group of students interested in technology and had them use Chrome Books to research topics for presentation purposes.  Cyr taught fifth-graders with an interest in sports how to research information on the Internet and then create trading cards to display their final products.

No extra staff members have been hired to execute PLUS groups. Administrators, teachers, literacy specialists, the math specialist, special educators and paraprofessionals are all involved in the PLUS teaching process.  In many cases, specialists and special education teachers work with PLUS groups that have very targeted needs and, in some cases, with students they directly service.

Cyr sees student growth from the work done in PLUS and commented, “I think it makes [students] feel comfortable working in a smaller group.  A student that may not be as vocal in the classroom, or they’re not advocating for themselves, can come in here and they’ll ask questions… I think they feel really supported.  They know that it’s targeting things that they need, so I’ve personally seen great results.”

Students in grades one through five attend PLUS groups every F day at a time designated for their grade level.  In grades six and seven, PLUS groups are scheduled out during various times in the week.  In eighth grade, because there are five sections, extra remediation and enrichment work is embedded into core classes.

What do the kids think about PLUS?  First-grader Sage Damelin said that her favorite thing is doing projects on the computer.  She also enjoys computer games that work with words, especially synonyms.  Another first-grader, Erin Farmer, writes during her PLUS time and said, “In PLUS you get to write about certain books that are really fun.  It was really fun writing [about a dog book] because I love dogs.”

Several fourth-graders shared their experiences.  Quinn Hart said, “I think [PLUS groups] are really enjoyable and you learn a lot.  We learn how to handle open response questions and how to make inferences.  These prepare us for MCAS.  We work in small groups and each teacher has a different perspective of teaching us their way.”

Hallie Farmer said, “We did games like reading comprehension and following directions.  It’s helped me with context clues, following directions with reading and writing paragraphs.””

Maddie Tuck also commented on her reading group, “We got to learn more about different strategies that we weren’t reading about in the regular class… You weren’t just sitting down and learning something, you got to have fun.”

FSS PLUS groups have been in place for two school years and share the goal of meeting individual student needs in a different format.  Cyr said, “I think it’s something that will be here and that we feel a strong investment in.  We would like to keep going as we move forward into the next school year and beyond.  There is a lot of value in it to target specific areas of need with students.  We all thoroughly enjoy it and the time we get to spend with the students.”