Curse those small groups

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Common pedagogical fashion favors small group work right now. I have fought this battle for the longest time. I have tried and tried to group since multiple sources warned me my evaluation depended on people seeing a split-up class, with grouped students helping each other. Only my students are so far behind the freshly-created, outsider-based, required curriculum that they can’t do small groups well — when they can do them at all.

For the introduction of new material, whole group instruction is wholly appropriate. No one in administration would listen when I repeated that practically everything I was required to present was new material — often material without foundations, which also needed to be presented. So I grouped and I ended up with a lot of kids off task and a lot of time wasted.

I have had a long, tiring year. Computers finally saved me on the small group score, allowing me to present the right picture to onlookers. Some months into the year, we received software programs; groups could use the software while other groups worked with me to learn the main concepts for the day. This meant that I gave the main lesson three times when I had a vocabulary station and twice when I did not. Students worked on the computers and then moved to other stations. The new math software program started above my students’ learning levels — with one documented exception — so this system did not work as well as it might have, but at least my groups did not appear ridiculous. They weren’t the most efficient use of my pedagogical time, however.

Eduhonesty: Frankly, when students know so little of the required content, letting them teach each other regularly seems like pedagogical malpractice to me. But what do I know? I just work here.

P.S. Among other considerations, when I give the main lesson three times, I must shorten that lesson. Even if I give a great 20 minute mini-lesson each time, I can’t pack as much information and practice into 20 minutes as I can into 35 or 40 minutes. My students then necessarily are deprived of possible instructional time, an opportunity cost that cannot be recovered.