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.
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.
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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