Working in Groups

   learn03 The way we seat our students really depends on many different factors. The class, the teacher, the objectives, etc. My students are always in groups of 3-4 (depending on how students I have). Some teachers might be hesitant to keep their kids in groups because of noise, but in my experience if you trust the students to listen when they should be listening, talking generally isn't an issue. In my case, I believe in keeping my lectures very short. My students should be doing the majority of the work, not me. I introduce new concepts and ideas to my students, but I lead them through everything else. If my students actively participate in their own learning, there is greater chance they will develop understanding. I can teach them, but teaching doesn't equate to learning. Therefore, I put the responsibility of learning on them (through strategically planned lessons, of course).
    There are many benefits to sitting in groups. The teacher benefits from this as well, I assure you. Perhaps I should start there. Have you ever experienced this: You give your students clear instructions as to their next activity. You have modeled it, and then you take questions and no one has any questions as they all understand perfectly what to do? Finally, you release them to begin and then you have two or three, "What are we doing?", or "What am I supposed to do now?" This is where my groups come in super handy. Each group has a group leader (this would typically be one of the higher students in the group, and is someone who listens and is responsible), and before taking any questions I have my group leaders reiterate the instructions. In fact, any questions my students have must first be directed at the group leader. If the group leader and nobody else in the group has the answer, then and only then can the student come and ask me. I cannot tell you how much time this saves me, because it means my time repeating myself is decreased. Love it!
    In addition, by sitting in groups, students get extra support that one teacher just cannot give (I do not have any aides, so it's all me). If a student doesn't quite know how to do something, they quickly start getting the idea when they see what the other group members are working on. Now, some teachers might be worried about cheating, but this has never been an issue in my classes. To begin, you know when cheating is going on. For some reason, our kiddos haven't quite figured out how to make their cheating discrete. That works in our favor. Another reason this isn't a problem is because exams and projects has a much heavier weight in their total grade than classwork or homework. In my opinion, classwork and homework is simply extra practice helping them through the learning process. My projects and exams are weighted much more heavily, and if it is an assignment where they are showing me what they know, then I will make them turn their desks out of their groups and face the front of the room. Problem solved.
    Language support is also a great benefit to sitting in groups. This is a way to support any ELL students you have (all of my students speak English as a second language). Since we are a full English immersion school, I do not allow my students to have conversations in Spanish. Translating, however, is a different issue, and I will let them translate to their group members when needed.
    You see, having students sit in groups is beneficial for the teacher, and for the students. It makes for a win-win situation. When they are working, I never demand silence. I really don't mind some talking, as long as they are really working and focusing. As long as my students meet the learning goals, I am a happy teacher.