Small group work is one way of ensuring active participation of students. Group work may challenge many teachers as control of classroom knowledge and organisation is passed to the students.
Group work enables students to move more readily from receiving knowledge to generating knowledge. Through talk students are able to personalise this knowledge and scaffold their thinking processes and understandings.
It is important to change student groupings frequently. Many teachers group students according to interests and skills to be developed. Mixed ability grouping of students is also valuable in supporting the participation of underperforming students. Scaffolding of participation through, eg oral language activities and the use of graphic organisers, will facilitate equal participation of all students.
The MyRead guides are intended for one or all of the following:
When using small groups, four is the optimum size to manage student learning. It allows for a good range of experience and individual contributions.
Where students are organised into small groups, the groups may operate in the regular classroom or in another room. When a group is withdrawn from a regular classroom issues of transition are very important.
Underperforming students are often identified for ‘pull out’ in intensive needs based groups where their learning needs are targeted. If the pedagogy in this group is significantly different from the pedagogy operating in the regular class, then the transfer of the skills once the student returns to the regular class is minimised and the learning may not be retained. All of the gains made in the small group may be lost. There can be no vaccination against underperformance through such an approach.
The learning support teacher must work closely with the classroom teacher to ensure they have a common approach and transition issues are minimised. Communication between the two teachers is critical so that links to the regular class are made frequently.
Cooperative learning strategies acknowledge recognition of difference as many students who do not ‘fit’ the middle class model of the student that schools and curriculum were designed for are supported to participate more effectively.
Working in small groups using cooperative learning strategies supports underperforming students to:
There are many publications which include a range of cooperative learning strategies (see references). A selection of strategies which have been referred to by writers in the MyRead guides are included here.
Think Pair Share is a cognitive rehearsal structure that can be used to help students:
Explicit discussion about the rights and responsibilities of speakers and listeners helps to clarify the shared understandings of the partner discussions. To help the students establish effective speaking and listening skills, teachers model and refer to behaviours that are expected when people speak and listen to each other.
Teachers monitor the children’s interactions and draw attention to successful discussions so that students understand exactly what they need to do.
This activity is designed to allow for each individual’s thinking, perspective and voice to be heard, recognised and explored.
Students give their opinions verbally around the circle or group. All members contribute equally.
This activity is characterised by participants within a cooperative group each becoming expert on different aspects of one topic of study.
Students are numbered off by the teacher, eg 1-6 or three or four or more different types of card are handed around the room and students are grouped according to the colour of the card. This is useful for organising cooperative strategies such as jigsaws.
A PMI (Plus, Minus, Intriguing) is used for affective processing to talk about the pluses, minuses and intriguing points felt about a lesson, concept or issue.
Concept webs encourage learners to visually record their learning through an exploration of issues or topic. The process establishes connections and helps the learner organise ideas and understand relationships between different concepts, problems and ideas.
The centre circle contains the main concept, problem or topic. Linking ideas or solutions are recorded in the outer circles through the use of key words. Lines may be added to link the connecting circles to each other as well as to the central circle. Images and colours may also be used to enhance the concept map.
T Charts are used to examine a particular problem or issue.
T Chart (cause and effect)
T Chart (problem/solution)
To explore effective listening skills, ask students to complete a T Chart in table form. The charts may be displayed and used as a reference point during classroom activities.
Y Charts are an extension of T Charts.
Venn Diagram (comparison)
Venn diagrams support students to identify similarities and differences between ideas, concepts or problems. The similarities are recorded in the intersection of the two circles. The differences are recorded in the outer sections of the two circles.
For successful small group work:
These role cards are also available in printable Microsoft Word fomat.
Functional Role Cards
Learning Role Cards (Based on the Four Roles/Resources of the Reader)
It is important for schools to foster a culture of two-way communication with their communities which recognises the needs and abilities of all members of their communities as resources. Effective parent partnerships are built through seeking input about what is important regarding their child’s learning, listening to their concerns, inviting feedback about classroom activities and where appropriate eliciting their active support both in school and at home.
Traditionally some parents/carers provide classroom support to the school as reading tutors. Teachers now acknowledge that when parental/carer help in the classroom is available, it is important that underperforming students are supported by the classroom teacher, the person who is most skilled to address their learning needs.
When schools involve parents/carers in the reading program teachers should ensure that texts are within the Zone of Actual Development (ZAD) of students or at their recreational rather than instructional level. Parents/carers can then concentrate on engaging students in the text and making reading fun by focusing on, eg the Text Participant role. When texts are within the ZAD, laboured ‘sounding out’ strategies may be avoided. The parents and the students will have more positive perceptions of the reading experience.
Bellanca J. & Fogarty R. (1994). Blueprints for Thinking in the Cooperative Classroom. Australia: Hawker Brownlow Education.
Bennett B., Rolheiser C. & Stevahn L. (1991). Where Heart Meets Mind. Toronto, Ontario. Canada: Educational Connections.
Education Department of Western Australia. (1997) First Steps Oral Language Resource Book. Melbourne: Rigby Heinemann.
Hill, S. & Hill, T. (1990). The Collaborative Classroom: A Guide to Cooperative Learning. South Yarra, Victoria: Eleanor Curtain.
Hill, S. & Eckert, P. (1995). Leading Communities of Learners. Adelaide: Management and Research Centre.
Reid, J. (2002). Managing small group Learning. Newtown, NSW: Primary English Teaching Association (PETA).
Shopen, G. & Liddicoat, A. with Fitzgerald, R. (1999). Meeting the Challenge: Supporting partnerships between home and school in the middle years. ACT Department of Education & Community Services.