A Rising Tide Can Sink All Boats


I had a practicum student in my classroom for two weeks one time. After he had observed for several days, I gave him a chance to teach a class.  I don't remember what it was on and it doesn't really matter because it was an unmitigated disaster.  He put them in groups of four, handed out manipulatives the students had never seen before and tried to take them through an exercise they had no experience with.  He did it because that's what they teach education majors in college.  I got the rigamarole too.  Group work is the Holy Grail of teaching. It's fun.  It motivates.  It levels the playing field.  It's inclusive. It differentiates.  It's the rising tide that lifts all boats.  Well maybe, but there's a catch.  Effective group work requires a classroom dynamic that will support it.  For starters, you have to know the name and temperament of all your students. The teacher has to have absolute control and well established routines. The students need to demonstrate self-control and recognize limits.  It takes weeks to establish that environment and some classes never get there.  One of my very savvy college instructors told me "Don't smile at them until Halloween.  Then maybe by Thanksgiving, you can try putting them in pairs."  Then in the second half of the year, you work up to three's, maybe four's for some activities like board games.


Be careful about springing things on students. Make sure you introduce it, guide them through some dry runs then rehearse and practice in small chunks and for short time periods.  Make sure you go over the group / activity rules in detail and have a solo alternative activity ready for those who become disruptive.  You won't really know how things will go until you go live. So when you think they're ready,  go for it and have fun.


Also be sure to allocate enough time for set up in the beginning and clean up at the end.  The last part is extremely important.  Running clean up into dismissal can turn into a train wreck with students coming in and out and stuff all over the place.


One last thing - Don't ever have a substitute teacher do a group activity.


Si facile, omnes esset facere....Mister L.