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End of year thoughts

The end of the school year brings with it tiredness, relief, amazement at how we all survived, and time to draw breath, perhaps some time for some unforced critical reflection. The recent PISA results and the ensuing and no doubt ongoing debate also forces some critical thinking. I'm interested at the moment in how we organise the children in our care to optimise our time & energy for their learning -aka grouping. Ability or interest? Fixed or changing? Self or teacher determined? Some, all or none of the time?

I have been particularly interested in watching the social & emotional responses to grouping... Here's an example... Highly able, albeit somewhat reticent reader, in mixed ability reading group, feels like an outlier (uncomfortably so) but at the same time begins to express doubts about own reading ability, & therefore becomes reluctant to outwardly participate ie share ideas in discussion. Teacher assumes this lack of verbal participation is a significant lack of understanding so when re-grouping the class acts on this feeling in lieu of other data & in a return to ability grouping re-groups child at a lower level, confirming child's doubts.

This example highlights some concerns & possible ways to address these:
- grouping is a powerful instructional & organisational tool to be wielded with care
- consider who benefits most/least from grouping arrangements, as the purpose of a small group is surely to more tightly cater for collective learning needs
- outliers are more likely to need 'different' arrangement of instruction to meet their needs
- quality information should underpin decisions about grouping; frequent and on-going monitoring is essential
- both intellectual and socio-emotional outcomes need to be considered as these are closely related
- consider the benefits of specifically teaching children how to self-group, and be prepared to guid their efforts in understanding their own needs
- where you are expecting children to collaborate within a grouped learning setting, ensure they have (or are specifically taught) the skills to do this
- on a related theme, introverted children (representing perhaps 80% of gifted children) may be less able &/or less willing to participate in a collaborative task; consider how you can facilitate their learning on their terms

Happy thinking!


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