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Funding Targeted Attention Through Small-Group Instruction in Early Literacy


Pre-pandemic, most districts used small-group instruction to provide Tier 2 and 3 supports, but now, it's an important component in ensuring all students can access grade-level Tier 1 instruction. 


Our downloadable guide explains how district leaders can invest ESSER funds to support small-group instruction for all students. The guide provides actionable advice on making strategic investments for long-term success, as well as recommendations on scheduling and staffing—including concrete examples of these decision points in action. 




What Is Small-Group Instruction?

Small-group instruction is when instructors teach individual groups of two to six students. Ideally, these small groups meet 20-40 minutes per group at a frequency of three to five times per week.

When used in addition to core instruction, small-group instruction can address gaps in foundational skills and effectively meet students’ academic needs, particularly for elementary students in math and reading, students with disabilities, and English language learners. Research shows that:

  • Small-group instruction can be an effective Tier 2 and 3 support.
  • Small-group instruction is most effective in addressing unfinished learning when there is sufficient time and attention for each student.
  • Students make significant achievement gains when grade-level teams of teachers are provided with consistent meeting times, schoolwide instructional leadership, and explicit protocols that focus on addressing students’ academic needs.
  • High-quality curriculum is an essential component to small-group instruction.


How to Spend ESSER Funds to Support Small-Group Instruction

While each district context will require different investments in small-group instruction, district leaders can take strategic steps by investing in: 

  • Additional staff and dedicated time for small groups, including a variety of roles and schedules.
  • Educator professional learning and collaboration time.
  • High-quality, standards-aligned curricular materials.
  • Assessments and monitoring systems to both track students’ progress and evolve the approach.

Download Our Guide on Small-Group Instruction to:

  • Better understand small-group instruction and current research findings around this topic.
  • Learn how to fund small-group instruction in a sustainable way using remaining ESSER dollars.
  • Discover how to strategically schedule and staff for small-group instruction and explore concrete examples.




Additional Resources on Small-Group Instruction


District Story: Pawnee ISD Gets Creative With Extended School Year

See how Pawnee ISD took advantage of an extended school year to provide engaging small-group instruction with a focus on real-world experiences to keep students engaged and supported through the summer.  

District Story: Dallas ISD Seizes the Opportunity of More Time in School

When Dallas ISD had the opportunity to add more time to their school year, one of their main goals was to provide more small-group instruction. Check out how they restructured their schedule to create space for this proven strategy to improve student learning.  

Early Literacy Overview

The pandemic heightened the existing inequalities for young students, especially around early literacy, which is foundational for all that comes after it. Read our report on how small-group instruction can be crucial to ensuring students don't fall behind on this cornerstone skill. 


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