Grouping pupils in the classroom has always been an important responsibility of the teacher. The primary objective of grouping pupils is to place each pupil in learning environment which will enable her to achieve optimum, well-rounded growth.
Marvin Shaw defines a group as three or more persons who are interacting with one another in such a manner that each person influences and is influenced by each other. This brings out the concept of small group. The group must have enough members to provide needed diversity, but not so many that members feel anonymous and reluctant to take part or that the group’s energies are depleted with organizational matters. The optimum group size from the standpoint of satisfaction seems to be about five or six student discussion groups.
It is a misconception that small group instruction technique is easy to employ. There are management problems inherent within the concept of intertwined personalities during interaction, and most children have not been taught how to learn in small groups.
Principles and Philosophy of Small Group Instruction
- One of the most effective learning techniques is small group instruction.
- Peer pressure creates a phenomenon of group potential to enhance interaction and learning rather than to inhibit them.
- The pressure to interact with others is proportional to the number of people with whom interaction is possible. The more people, the less pressure; the less people, the more pressure.
- Interaction is best brought about not only by the size of the group but also by the seating arrangement of the group – face to face is best.
- The group members will be less involved with personal competition when they interact with other group members on the basis of equality, without the presence of an authority figure.
- The small group brings more data to bear on problems because of probes and questions; therefore, the learner acquires the capacity to modify, refine, and apply personal knowledge freely to the solving of group problems.
- Learning is most viable for the individual when the reward is intrinsic and not extrinsic; the positive pressure of interaction brings about an intrinsic reward system because of the refining of the child’s perception and of the concept of self.
- Changing to small group instruction should be a slow, gradual process because considerable practice is required.
- Teachers must tell their students exactly what the small group is supposed to accomplish.
- The pattern of student behavior that is appropriate to the goal of the lesson determines the type of small group process that should be employed.
- The means of solving a problem should be sequentially taught so that the means can eventually become a natural part of the group process itself. The right choice of small group type is the key to success with this process.
- Most functioning groups will accomplish more by chance alone than by rigid, authoritative control.
- Teachers must be aware that abandoning well-enforced teaching habits is not easy and a conversion from traditional teaching modes to small groups and individual involvement may be traumatic and costly. But when compared to other teaching methods, the small group process and the end results are most worthwhile.
The specific content objective of the teacher determines the type of small group to be used and the type of small group is also a process in itself and some intermingling of the process will occur depending upon the content, objective, the time allowed for the process to take place, the role the teacher plays and the roles played by the member of the group.
1. Required Grouping
The teacher should choose the grouping, distributing the following members: the vocal leader, the quiet leader, the follower, the attention giver, and the child with a severe attitude problem.
The grouping may also be in terms of ability, as in reading or mathematics. The classification should be flexible enough to allow shifting if the pupils in the slow group make progress and vice-versa. Results of an achievement or of a diagnostic test in mathematics may be a basis in grouping pupils in that subject.
2. Structured Grouping
The basic idea for this is the rotation of children from group to group every two or three weeks. This periodic rotation of students and the use of evaluation and lessons the group is familiar with will enable the teacher to discover which students work well together and which do not.
Pupils may also be grouped alphabetically in the beginning with the groups moving seats so that each group has a chance to sit in front.
3. Preference Grouping
If the teacher will allow students to come together because they decided it (with subtle teacher direction) and not because the teacher openly forced it, children who might otherwise be considered trouble makers will produce more than if they were handled in some negative fashion.
Some children will want to group themselves to solve a problem of interest or concern to them. Even though there may not be much free time in the classroom, make a point to allow these students the time to work alone. Problem solving or their own allows students excellent opportunity for expansion of language and thinking, and produces interaction and better awareness of the use of the small group concept.
The following techniques can be used:
- Permit children to sign up on colored sheets of paper, no more than 5 to 7 in a group and designate work areas.
- Permit children to sign up by topic and designate work areas.
- Permit children to sign up with friends and designate work areas.
- Other ideas you may have, and designate work areas.
Guidelines for the Teacher in Small Group Work
- When in doubt, stay out.
- The best seating arrangement is to have the members in the small group arranged so that they face each other.
- A 30-minute work period with an additional 10 minutes for evaluation is a good frame of references to use for planing lessons in the upper elementary school. In the primary grades, the work time would be less, depending upon the amount of activity involved in the content objective.
- The first goal in the initial stages of the small group is for members to learn to know each other.
- Be certain that the objective of the group has been clearly defined and understood by all.
- Be certain to provide for supplemental resources or to indicate where they are located.
- The problem of one individual in accomplishing the goal of the group becomes the problem of the whole group – so be ready to help the group shift the type of small group process being used to a type that will allow the problem to be solved.
- Students must be aware of the fact that arguing for the fun of it will break down the small group procedure.
- Strive for a consensus of opinion of the group. Sort out areas of agreement and concentrate on coming to a consensus in the area of disagreement.
- Interaction will increase according to the degree of cohesiveness that the teacher will allow to take place.
- Be certain to evaluate at the end of the work period.
- Be certain not to make quick or frequent changes in the group’s composition, because this tends to break down the membership phenomenon.
- Remember that groups fail when:
- The teacher fails to communicate the specific objective of the lesson.
- One student becomes dogmatic in her point of view.
- One students seeks to promote and insist on her pet theory.
- One student monopolizes the discussion.
- One student approaches the topic with a closed mind.
- One student consistently shows partially to another student.
- An area of disagreement is shelved without attempting to rediscover, restate, or redo the research concerning the area of disagreement.
In implementing the small group process, the teacher should note the following summary points:
- Children need first of all to learn how to learn in small groups.
- Some children need to be pushed in the direction of small groups at first because they have never experienced them.
- There is definite value in belonging to a viable, learning situation.
- Personality conflicts do occur, so some regrouping is necessary.
- The process of small group learning is sequential in terms of procedures and thinking skills.
- The teacher’s content objective will determine which small group process is used.
- There is an intermingling of the processes as the procedures are learned.
When teacher does try the small group technique for the first time, everything seems chaotic and wasteful. However, in spite of the chaos and the loss of time, there is more to be gained by the student in the small group because she uses her thinking skills and learns new patterns of thinking. The risks are worth it.
Grouping Schemes & Techniques
Evelina M. Vicencio
U.P. Integrated School
Diliman, Quezon City