The benefits of grouping

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I know that there are those that will disagree, and I’m certainly not saying it is easy, however, in my opinion, grouping students in the classroom solves so many areas that we need to consider as teachers.

Whilst I fully appreciate the barriers such as student conduct, physical space, and the ever changing class dynamics “I’m not allowed to sit/work with…” etc. etc. Surely there are more benefits overall to both teachers and learners?

When we consider that we have to differentiate appropriately for all, stretch and challenge our most able, provide new learning and yet embed, make sure we use effective questioning, provide opportunities to improve literacy, promote resilience, foster responsibility, encourage thinking and problem solving, praise and motivate, dismiss in an orderly manner, and of course ensure that progress can be evidenced and both we and our students know exactly what they can and can’t do in terms of assessment, then don’t we owe it to ourselves to make life a little, dare I say, easier?

“But my students can’t work in groups!” I hear you cry.

I do wonder what happens between primary and secondary over the course of the six week break. How is it that students who have spent seven years on the red table or the blue table suddenly cannot cope? Is it indeed the lack of structure for some that they find so unsettling? And, would it be far better from day one in year seven to assign them the red table?

From my own experience, I know that there are students who simply cannot cope with the space of the drama area, and much to my despair will run around like a headless chicken, whilst others are perfectly well behaved and there is never a problem with sticking to their group in their allocated rehearsal space.

I have considered each of the topics we looked at on the inset day 13th January and in conclusion, reasoned the pros of groups. (My apologies to Science. I realise your benches are set facing forward however I do know that you do a lot of pair work.)

I know at this point the words egg, Grandmother and suck spring to mind! I am aware that different strategies used in different combinations with different groupings of students improves learning outcomes and I don’t mean to suggest that silent individual working is not valid. It is!

Grouping using colour, names and numbers helps to provide structure. Groups enable those with similar abilities and varying abilities to be catered for. (I’m sure we all experience a wide range of levels and abilities in our classes). Applicable resources for all can be prepared and set ready on the table E.G. task management boards and SOP’s (standard operating procedures), pictures, sort cards, vocabulary lists, graphic organisers, outcomes using taxonomies. Within the groups, student’s roles can vary, providing responsibility, allowing ease of differentiation and stretch and can feed nicely into improving literacy as well as effective communication.

It is easier for the teacher to walk to a table and question a group than walk backwards and forwards all over the room to individuals. Assertive questioning can be directed to groups and collective and extended answers sought. Peer questioning becomes easier to implement through the use of a question matrix, as does peer assessment and encouraging celebration and critique of others work E.G ‘Who has the best piece of work on our table and why’? Used well, it can raise awareness of exam technique and criteria. Misconceptions can be challenged by both teacher and peers without fear of being singled out and new learning can be processed.

A strategically placed TA will be able to assist four students by default rather than only the one they are assigned to.

It takes a bit of set up and thinking about in terms of how to overcome possible barriers, consistency, selecting appropriate activities for impact, planning for maximising progress; The physical space, room sharing, resources, colour coding, assigning roles.

Is that something we should share with our classes across departments? What would the benefits be?

Essentially this is about working smarter- not harder!

The articles below suggest we share the rationale with our students to offer transparency and provide information on the benefits for students.

https://teachingcenter.wustl.edu/resources/teaching-methods/incorporating-group-work-in-the-classroom/benefits-of-group-work/

https://www.cmu.edu/teaching/designteach/design/instructionalstrategies/groupprojects/benefits.html

Liz Bradshaw