Friday – time for taking a risk: group work and dialogic learning
From time to time, I would try something different – taking risks if you will – in my lessons. But I don’t take needless risks. Friday seems to be an ideal day to try something rejuvenating, just when everybody is getting tired and grinding down for the weekend. Received wisdom dictates that trying anything new is best avoided at all costs on a Friday. But, I do like to get out of my comfort zone occasionally.
I don’t like group work, so I decided to try group work on Friday.
Besides, it would be a crime not to experiment when we were supposed to be free – to certain extent – from teaching in a style favoured by Ofsted anymore.
I set about rearranging the desks from rows to tables after my English Literature lesson with my AS group (that’s another lesson to blog).
Since I was in the same room for the rest of the day, I wonder if I should stick to the same arrangement for three of my lessons (except Form time): year 8 on ballads; year 10 on Of Mice and Men and year 7 on Wonder.
As I was the only teacher and observer for two of the lessons, I relied on my observation; my interaction with the individual students; the interaction amongst the students; the work that they produced; and finally the students’ comments as basis of my reflection and evaluation of these lessons.
Hopefully, I can interview the trainee teacher and the intervention officer who were also in my year 7 lesson for their insight.
Perhaps, I should have booked a IRIS camera to record these lessons as data for further analysis and I could have asked another colleague, or two, to observe.
Group: Year 8
Work: Drafting for a literature essay (The Highwayman)
Methods of recording work: exercise book
Independent learning: using iPads and exercise books to access study notes
After three lessons, the progress of the group was varied. Whilst it is noticeable in some, a few were clearly lacking in producing much tangible and convincing evidence. Something had to be done.
The desks were arranged into seven tables of various sizes: the biggest would accommodate eight pupils and the smallest two. Whilst one could sit six, the remaining four four. I sat some of those who were making excellent progress at the largest table, mixed with a couple who could benefit from their more responsive peers. The table of six was intended to allow those fairly independent and conscientious ones to flourish in each other’s enthusiasm. The four tables had been used for those who could do with some peer pressure from their more industrious counterparts to make more progress. At each of these tables, I placed one reliable student as a role modal – an “anchor”. However, it became very clear to me that the arrangement of one of these tables was less than ideal. The “anchor” was visibly uncomfortable in the presence of the other three. I had to relocate her, leaving the three on their own.
This was in fact what I should have done in the first place. All three of them particularly needed extra attention from me due to what I had observed as their disruptive behaviour. On the one hand, putting them together away from the others had achieved in containing their disruption. On the other hand, confining them to one corner of the room had allowed me to sit down with them to offer “one-to-one” support, and a stern warning if need be. At the remaining single desk, I allocated two other students who also required close monitoring for behaviour and progress; both also happened to be Pupil Premium students.
As the lesson progressed, I continued to move from table to table to encourage them to support each other by coaching, explaining and demonstrating, etc.
How did it work?
On the whole, the lesson had worked better from the previous lessons in the following way:
- Generally speaking, the students were more engaged with the task. This could be due to the fact that this was their last lesson before the assessment.
- The number of times when they asked for support seemed to be more frequent, including a couple of students whom I had identified as been “too chatty” and in this lesson purposefully grouped with the more studious ones.
- Scientific enough or not, the sense of urgency was more palpable. Monitor of their written work seemed to support this observation.
- I could sit down to support those three more challenging students at the same table.
- I could monitor more easily those two PP students at a separate table.
- On leaving the lesson, one student from the largest table commented, “Sir, can we sit like this in the future? We worked really well because it’s a good table. We helped each other.”
However, I also have my doubts about the following:
- Even though the separation of the “naughty table” and the “PP table” from their peers had allowed the rest of the group to work uninterrupted. The progress of these two tables remained unconvincing. More thinking and planning are needed to address this situation.
The students’ learning outcome based on their assessment will be reviewed as part of the evidence of their progress. However, it has to be noted that the assessment can only shed light in certain aspects of their learning and development in a broader context. Other forms of probing should also be considered as equally meaningful measurements of their achievement.