Making groups work

“In classrooms where a sense of community is built, students are the crew not the passengers.”
Chris Watkins

Making groups work - Why collaborative learning is worth the effort
Research from the Teaching & Learning Research Programme Background Findings Implications There is a wide gap between group work’s  Group work can have  We need to rethink potential and its limited use in schools. Done a stronger influence pedagogical theories effectively, it can increase pupils’ on academic progress which favour teacherengagement, raise attainment and improve than other forms of led activities and behaviour. teaching and learning. individual work.
When pupils are working well together, teachers have more time to think. Earlier research shows that little group work takes place in UK schools, and still less is of good quality. Pupils sit in groups, but rarely work as groups. Teachers are not always convinced about the value of group work. However, they cannot just put children into groups and expect them to work well together. For effective group work, pupils need to learn to communicate effectively through listening, explaining and sharing ideas. They also have to learn to trust and respect each other, and to plan, organise and evaluate the way they are working together. Teachers need to develop strategies which lead to high-quality, thoughtful group work.

Key points from the research
Group work can be used successfully in ordinary classrooms. Relationships improve, as long as teachers train children in group-working skills. Effective group work has important implications for school discipline. Schools can use it towards helping to eliminate the problem, rather than concentrating on whole school managerial solutions designed for control.

 Pupils’ behaviour  Given space and time improves because to develop pupils’ they spend more time group working skills, on task and engage in teachers can transform higher level the learning Teachers in the studies had to work hard to be successful. However, as pupils developed discussions. environment.  Relationships improve  This suggests an between teachers and alternative to current pupils and among approaches to school pupils discipline which aim to The findings suggest a need to rethink themselves. control rather than eliminate the problem. current pedagogical theories, which favour
group-working skills, teachers found that they had been freed from many of their ordinary procedural duties and had more time to reflect and think strategically.

teacher-led activities and individual work. This has been exacerbated by concerns with performance indicators and national tests. Peer-based learning can be a very productive part of classroom activity.

What is Talk Factory?
With the current focus on oracy throughout the English national curriculum, there is a demand for educational technologies which support both teachers and learners in developing their awareness of, and engagement in, educationally beneficial dialogic interactions in the classroom. Talk Factory is designed for use on an Interactive Whiteboard and supports whole class group work and plenary discussions Talk Factory is designed to support ‘exploratory’ talk, which is defined as “a joint, co-ordinated form of co-reasoning, in which speakers share relevant knowledge, challenge ideas, evaluate evidence, consider options and try to reach agreement in an equitable manner” (Mercer, 2008). Research in recent years has found that this kind of classroom dialogue is effective for promoting children’s talking, thinking and listening skills (see Mercer and Littleton, 2007 and the Thinking Together website for details). Talk Factory displays six ‘rules for talking’ which can be edited by the teacher to support the needs of their class. Three are positive, or desirable, features of discussion (e.g. ‘explains reasons’ and ‘explains disagreement’) and three are negative, or undesirable features of discussion (e.g. ‘interrupts others’). The teacher can tap on a rule every time a child follows it during a discussion. Talk Factory includes a bar graph which represents the teacher’s taps on the rules. It also includes a sum of desirable and undesirable events, and a timeline. These features can be used by the teacher and the children to evaluate how well their discussion adheres to the rules for talking. Talk Factory is a tool that has a dual role: it helps teachers to model and encourage the positive features of discussion and argumentation, and it enables students to take part more effectively in argumentation by increasing their understanding of how to talk together effectively.
“Very little exploratory talk occurs naturally in classrooms when children work together in groups. Pupils do not tend to be very aware of how they talk, do not understand the value of this way of talking and do not realise that this is how teachers expect them to talk in groups.”

I have been involved in this Open University Research programme and a number of staff at RLS in Maths, D&T Food / Textiles, History, English and Science have given it a go with pleasing success.

How to find it.
Navigate to All Programmes/Staff Applications and you should find a little icon TALK FACTORY The pretty picture will appear and you click on the CLICK HERE TO BEGIN button . You should now see the screen below.

You MUST fill in something in the Discussion Detail box.
As I never store the results I just type any gobbledygook, but you could enter your class details. It automatically creates a folder in your documents called TalkFactory-Secondary_Generic which you can open again to reuse. So if you wish, you can save your sessions – useful when you start to customise the rules. At this point you can change the contents of the rules boxes if you wish. Beware – the space is very limited – frustrating, but I am asking the OU to amend this.

Here’s one I did that encouraged students to ask each other questions. When you are ready – click the OK button and the following will appear.

Click on CLASSIC and your active screen appears.

At this point, I introduce the concept of group work rules to the class, point out the rules for engagement and the expectations. I sometimes have a paper version on a wordmat to support their language skills. (See next page. This one was for a Hazards lesson) When you click on any of the coloured boxes, you will see bar graphs growing to show you and the students how well they are doing. You can now circulate, listening into group dynamics, picking up on misconceptions, observing the quality of the discussions and rewarding it with clicks. (The students will want to get these). After a while you can stop and highlight some examples of good practice and encourage some less functional groups to follow suit. My experience has been, that once the Talk Factory has been introduced – the quality of the group discussion, group dynamics and interaction greatly improves and the progress is faster with higher quality outcomes.

Try starting off the group activity, listen in and then stop – introduce the Talk Factory rules and then listen to the difference it makes. I really look forward to hearing about your experiences and how you used it and where it was most effective. It is obviously a tool to use when it is going to be useful, not something you use every lesson. Happy Talking - Pete Crawley

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