Classroom management is one of the most important factors in determining the success or failure of small group instruction strategies.
A teacher needs to assess his or her group’s maturity and independence to determine whether they will be able to handle a strategy that allows for more freedom or if a more structured strategy is necessary.
Acceptable noise levels should be considered.
Careful grouping is essential so that students who don’t get along or who get along too well are not placed in the same group. There should be a plan in place for solving group conflicts.
The groups should be heterogeneous in most cases. Accomodations may need to be made for special education students and English language learners.
Tasks assigned should be appropriate for the strategy. Cooperative learning tasks are teacher controlled. Collaborative learning tasks are less structured (teacher facilitated) and have a more opened ended outcome.
Tasks should be clear and accompanied by clear verbal and written directions. Checklists and rubrics should be provided. Definitions for group roles and responsibities are also integral to the success of the group project.
Time restraints and access to educational materials need to be taken into account as well as necessary furniture such as tables and chairs and the physical space available for group activities.
Teachers should also plan to give explicit instructions when strategies such as cooperative and collaborative learning are first implemented so that students know what is expected and will then be able to operate on a more independent level in the future.
Once a strategy is implemented, the instructor needs to be able to assess the effectiveness of the strategy. Teacher monitoring of the activity and spot checking for understanding will serve that purpose, as well as an assessment over the covered material. The instructor should then make adjustments or interventions accordingly or perhaps choose a new strategy.
For project groupings, the teacher has several options including low-conflict groups (grouping those who work well together) and ability or skill groups (grouping students who are “experts” in different areas such as art or writing).
A teacher may also attempt random groupings but these do not usually produce good results.
When projects are being assessed, it is advisable to issue individual grades. Perhaps each person in the group can indicate which portion of the project he or she was responsible for to help the teacher determine his or her grade.
The Key Elements of Classroom Management, Joyce McLeod, Jan Fisher, and Ginny Hoover, Copyright 2003, ASCD, Alexandria, Virginia