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Teaching method – working with groups

Under this teaching method, students are divided into groups in which they must work cooperatively to complete assignments. Groups can be made up of 2, 3 or 4 students, depending on the teacher’s objective and type of exercise. This teaching method presupposes the adult assuming a different position in relation to the students – he’s no longer “in front of the students” but standing to the side, ready to help if the need arises. He’s no longer in the role of teacher or judge but more of an organizer or colleague.

This kind of work necessitates that the teacher prepare in advance: how he plans to form the groups (homogenous or heterogenous, whether or not he’ll act as mentor, number of students per group, etc.), depending on the task at hand. It’s of no importance what type of work is being done: regular lessons, mastering new skills or building communication abilities. Attention must also be paid to how the students are expected to interact within the group: will their roles be identical or will each student have their own assigned task (for example, secretary, assistant, timekeeper, record-keeper, etc.)? Will they be able to choose their own group members or will the teacher take charge of that question?

One hundred years ago, Roger Cousinet, elementary school teacher and the first elementary school inspector, introduced the free group-work method, whereby children were able to choose their preferred type of activity from among those suggested by the teacher and organize themselves into groups in order to solve the assigned task. All types of activity were divided as follows:

- creative activity (manual work: handicrafts, gardening, animal husbandry) or “intellectual creativity” (drawing, painting, music, composition, poetry); arithmetic was added as a means of quantifying activity).

- educational activity: study involving animals, plants and/or minerals, physical or chemical phenomena, history and geography.
Groups are divided into types:

- HOMOGENOUS GROUPS: the groups are made up of students who have similar levels of knowledge in a particular field, although their age and expertise in other areas may differ. Such groups are formed in order to complete a specific task through the performance of a certain set of actions. They are created for a short interval of time, serving as a kind of “helper” in special situations. As soon as the students overcome any obstacles in their way, the group is disbanded or the teacher can create other groups.

- HETEROGENOUS GROUPS: such groups are usually formed by the students themselves, with their level of preparation of no real importance. They are shaped on the basis of friendliness among the students, which encourages the effective exchange of opinion, collective thought and the development of “socio-cognitive conflict.” It’s a highly-effective teaching method – particularly in cases when the assignment involves problem-solving, such as during math studies or analysis of the natural sciences, etc.