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To group or not to group….

on March 20, 2012

… that is the question 😉

I went on a course at Swavesey Village College yesterday, basically talking about how they use mixed ability classes at KS3 to ensure they get high % of pupils making at least 3 sub levels of progress (and they do!)

They use lots of rich tasks (as you can imagine, I was VERY interested in that) and group work to ensure that everyone can communicate mathematically and gets a chance to understand the work set.  It also means that the less able have support and role models, and the more able can develop their communication, reasoning and proof skills.

The differentiation is built-in with rich tasks, but to ensure that no-one is left behind, they give out laminated ‘group role cards’, so students have roles within the group.  This seems to keep things moving nicely.

I teach only setted classes, but have quite a wide range of abilities in my AS-level group, so thought it might be good to try this with them.

We were starting the second Trigonometry chapter in Core 2, and I knew they were going to struggle, so it seemed the perfect opportunity to try this new strategy 🙂

I grouped them subtly so that each group contained 1 of my A-grade students, so there would be an ‘expert’ where needed.    I told them to assign their own roles from communicator, inclusion manager and presenter.  The communicator was the only one allowed to ask me questions, and the presenter would be the person doing the talking, either when I asked the group questions, or when I asked one from a group to go and help another group who were struggling with a concept the first group had cracked.  The inclusion manager had to ensure that everyone got their say, and that no-one got left behind.

Nrich suggest the following roles (I used an approximation for speed today)

To start them off, I set a puzzle of the week for them to do AS A GROUP.  They had to work on communication, and check their answers against other groups until we all agreed.  This done, the ice was broken, and we moved on.

The experiment was a great success, and students who would normally have struggled on in silence (I don’t know why they won’t just ask me – I’m very lovely really!?!) were discussing maths with others in the group and having lots of ‘lightbulb’ moments where they understood something new.   Those more able in the group were having to really articulate how they were doing/understanding stuff, and put it in a user-friendly way, which has forced them to really think about how they are thinking.  It also meant that I felt like I was only having to check 4 ‘lots’ of work, rather than the usual 14, as they were working in groups, so any problems to be addressed could be addressed together, with me only having to say it once per 4 people! 🙂

All in all, I was sold on the idea of group work, and am planning to implement lots of it along with my rich task work…

To the laminator, Batman!!


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