Thursday, 29 August 2013

Groups V Pairs V Individual Work (pre-term)

Some musings on Hattie's observations on group, pairs and individual work:

It is a well repeated mantra (well certainly during the time I have been teaching) that collaborative group work is the preferred method of educating in a primary setting. Within this has been the question of how you group children with some grouping in ability and some who mix children up. The notion of teaching in groups has become embedded in primary education. I have found this problematic for a number of reasons:

1. There is no evidence that group work has a significant impact on attainment.
2. As a result of grouping and differentiating planning to those groups, teachers assess children as part of a group, rather than individually. This leads to huge problems with over-highlighted APP grids and over-inflated marks (as well as underestimated marks).
3. In my experience those who shouted loudest led, when often these were the children worse placed to do so.
4. Invariably there were those class members who refused (or who could not) work as part of a group. These were not just the low ability either, high ability children wanted to work on their own too.
5. If you organise your classroom into groups the children do not get a direct sight of the whiteboard.
6. The more children working together = more noise.

Then I listened to a lecture by John Hattie ( and it all fell into place with one hugely important statistic he mentioned. 81% of children working in a group are working on their own.


Out of a class of 30 that is 24 kids ignoring those around them.

In which case - WHAT IS THE POINT OF GROUP WORK?????

Hattie proposes an alternative:

Hattie stated: "when kids work alone or in groups of more than two, the effect size is hugely less than pairs."

This makes more sense to me. In a pair both children can talk and listen to the other, in a group of 4 or 6 there is bound to be a couple of children talking at once or not listening. Pair work gives children the opportunity to make mistakes and not be ridiculed for them. In a group some will not talk for fear of getting the mickey taken out of them for being wrong. Also in a group you get a pack mentality, with the stronger picking on the weaker. Regardless of how you manage your classroom, this will happen.

In my opinion there is another couple of points that need discussing here in terms of the impact of this research on classroom practice. The first is organisation of the classroom, the second is planning.

If we take this to its logical conclusion children should sit in pairs at all times. In my experience children should face the front of the classroom. Remind you of anything?

This is hugely more problematic than organising the classroom. At present our approved planning grids have space for LA, MA and HA, with a box for SEN. We also have a section entitled 'guided group work'. The first thing to do is drop the guided group work box. As Hattie says, teachers need to learn when to "shut up" and often guiding a group can stop children working out things they really should be doing themselves. However, now planning becomes massively difficult. If we drop the LA, MA and HA we are left with a problem. The "differentiation" ("" used advisedly) expected on our planning disappears and we have the need to plan individually. This is surely massively time consuming. There is an antidote to this. If we are no longer devoting 30-45 minutes with our 'guided group' we are free to impact on all children during one lesson. This also gives us the opportunity to give effective feedback (which Hattie states has the biggest impact on raising attainment) to most of the class rather than only the guided group. It also gives us an opportunity to raise standards in the class. Rather than cap each group's achievement by the "differentiated" task decided upon in our planning, we can use our time to make sure most children get our input in every lesson. Interestingly on the feedback point, Hattie says when groups get teacher feedback on their work the children invariably do not listen because it is not individual. Makes sense doesn't it?

A bit on individual work:
I am a massive fan of children working silently on their own. I believe that this has to happen for children to achieve in our education system, given the huge reliance we have on individual silent exams as the major form of assessment. Usefully for teachers like me, it is shown by Hattie that practice tests have a major impact on attainment, far higher than many other teaching strategies. This is probably the place to plan individual silent work, perhaps on a weekly basis.

The impact on my teaching this year:
I have set up my classroom in rows of two, all facing the front. The children will work in pairs in most lessons. I will have regular tests in my class with the children doing them in silence. I will not work with groups, rather concentrating on individual kids/pairs. I will try to make sure all children get quality feedback at least once in every lesson. I will plan for ALL children to achieve and avoid the LA, MA and HA grouping. I will attempt to drive attainment in lessons through targeted intervention and showing kids what the 'next step' is.

I will review this blog in November..........


  1. I will await your reflections with interest,

  2. Interesting post and one that chimes with my experience. When I started as a NQT (2007) I arranged the tables for groups. My HoD wasn't convinced but I stuck with it. I shouldn't have. Managing behaviour for me was always much easier with rows. I also completely agree with the group work issue - I think most of the teaching I did was either individual silent work, paired work or whole class instruction & discussion. I did find group work worked successfully when there was a clear task and it worked better for what I wanted them to learn - for example, I occasionally would put pupils in groups of four and get them to write one paragraph of an essay each before combining it, though in reality this still had more of an individual flavour to it. Group work, to my mind, only ever works if everyone in the group has a very clear idea about what it is that they have to do, and the effort that goes into that can often be better used elsewhere. All of this said, I never ruled group work out - sometimes it served a purpose, but certainly not as the meat and veg of my teaching practice. Anyway, best of luck with it, and I'll be interested to hear your update in November.