Donnerstag, 8. März 2012

group work - do you know if they fit?

This is a topic I’ve been wanting to write about for a long time. It is not only good to know for beginner student teachers, but also a good reminder for veteran teachers, who get a new class with kids they don’t know.
At some point during our classes, we all will use some kind of group work with the kids. If it's planned well, it can be very fruitful for kids. They learn to collaborate, they learn to give and deal with feedback, and they get confronted with opinions that differ from their own.
But there is one key aspect to it that I experienced in almost every class I’ve been in. The composition of the group is essential to its success and also to the pleasure and fun for the kids involved.
Now, since all the kids are different, and we all know that every one of them has ‘friends’, but also ‘I just don’t like them'-type colleagues, it is still important to find the best possible fit. I’ve been with teachers, who where first-timers in a class, and they wanted to try group work with their class. Of course we had to talk about the didactical variations in which we could divide the kids in different groups (i.e. counting them from one to four; picking numbers out of a hat or randomly assigning them together). But after we were done with that, the teacher admitted that it’s really exciting to see how they are going to deal with it. We both had no idea how the kids would get along, who are the ‘can’t-match’ pairs and so on.

Since it was the first time for this class too, it went pretty well, but mostly because it was a kind of a new environment for them too. After the class, we talked about our thoughts and experiences and if we saw some kind of combination that won’t work next time. There were one or two kids, who could be trouble when put together in the future, so it's good to take notes the first time out.
Even tough it seems like you can’t to do much, if you get a bad combination the first time, it's important to stay calm and either sit it out, or you pick one of the kids you know for sure can work with anybody and switch them. But it's better to keep the first few times a little shorter and just put in some sequences that feature group work, rather than going all-in without knowing how they are going to react.
So the thing to keep in mind, for either student teachers and veterans is that there always needs to be a first time, and for that - you can’t possibly predict how it's going to go. After a while, you will get to know the kids anyway and you get more sense of how they fit together in groups.

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