Tales from new teachers

Operation cooperation

Tes Editorial

The problem

Feeling settled and increasingly confident in my teaching, I was ready to take risks and try more fun and creative approaches with my class. However, I discovered that the students were not at the same point. At all.

As soon as I tried to do anything that required them to work together, the whole class crumbled because they found it incredibly difficult to cooperate. Some lessons even ended in tears. I was finding that large chunks of learning time were disappearing as I sorted out issues.

This was not a fun environment for the children or me and it was challenging in the wrong sense. But I felt that it was important for the students to keep working in groups in order to develop their life skills. I didn't want to avoid it just because there were some difficult characters in the class. These were valuable learning opportunities for all, including me. So I sought help.

The options

I spoke to my mum, who advised: "Praise, praise and more praise." I told the children that adults would be watching and listening for good teamwork and awarding merit points. I made a big deal of praising cooperation and this was successful for a while.

Another teacher recommended that, rather than dictate to the pupils, I should give them responsibility and ask how they could work towards achieving their target as a group. I liked this idea and was surprised by the children's deep thinking.

A teacher friend told me she found it effective to select students to model cooperative behaviour. In subsequent lessons, I picked my volunteers carefully and demonstrated at the front of the class. This particularly helped the visual and kinaesthetic learners.

The result

With these approaches in place and familiar to pupils, I could solidify the learning by playing a more active role in forming the groups. I took it upon myself to allocate roles to the children to avoid any confrontations and time-wasting. For each group task, I would choose children according to their strengths and areas for development.

Eventually, I was able to show the impact of this advice during an observed lesson. After a short discussion and modelling, I continually praised the groups working well together and was generous with merit points.

It wasn't perfect, but it worked far better than before and I am now much more confident in rolling out new ideas for my lessons.

The writer is a teacher in her first year at an English primary school

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