Small-Group Pedagogy Mini-Series: Introduction

The climate for learning is not automatic... (Archer, 2011)

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Working in small groups and Mini-lessons is a great time to focus on pedagogy design where we can  explore, reflect, and refine practices and strategies to get the most from the valuable time we have to directly learn alongside our students. After all, there is an art and science to how and why we teach (note: not just what).

Following on from a 2020 article about the value and significance of working in small groups, this term we’ll be bringing you a series that aims to explore some of the ideas around pedagogical design and small group strategies.

It’s important to clarify that none of these strategies are new inventions, and they have been chosen to align with practices you most likely already use within your classroom. Plus, like all things, everyone’s pedagogy is along a continuum and, therefore, you are welcome to take from this series whatever fits you best. This series might serve as a timely reminder, a chance to investigate, or a prompt to refine. It might manifest as professional conversation starters, an identified skill for peer observation, or a targeted fortnightly focus. At the end of each article in this series you will find a few prompt questions to aid reflection. These are just some examples of what you may choose to use as you engage in these conversations. Plus, AITSL’s Professional Standards 1 through to 7 professionally encourages us to focus and build upon pedagogical practices and strategies to better engage our students and work towards targeted learning objectives. 

Ultimately, we hope they provide you with a moment of professional ‘me time’.

Active Participation

Back in the 90s,  the Australian Educational Council released a national statement on Mathematics for all Australian Schools proclaiming that mathematics should involve ‘observing, representing, and investigating patterns and relationships in social and physical phenomena and between mathematical objects themselves’  (Australian Education Council, 1990). While the documents and structures of maths have slightly shifted and altered, this has remained at the heart of many directives and expectations, in our view this statement is fairly synonymous with active participation and the goals of engaging with students throughout the learning process. 

Though it can be sometimes tempting to slip back into traditional ways, especially with the remnants of ‘needing to get through a chunk of content’, active participation shifts students away from the passive presence or being passive recipients. In fact, working in small groups stimulates an environment where students can be more actively involved and furthermore, actively engaged . While it might seem pedagogically obvious, there is still quite a lot of evidence that mathematics is a subject struggling to make this move. (You might like to check out this article.) 

In actuality, research implores teachers to move away from ‘chalk and talk’ strategies and implement more meaningful learning activities which can still reach the same curriculum expectations (Ransom & Manning, 2013).  While, for some, this might seem like adding unnecessary complexity, active participation can bring more awareness and ‘control’ over what you’d like the learning to achieve. 

For example,  this thorough article, ‘What Does Active Learning Mean For Mathematicians?’,  – explicitly calls out some key outcomes to expect when embedding active participation methods. (We are particularly fond of Number 2: Expect resistance from some students). Plus, this dissertation from Australian educator, Jessica Gleadow, explores the benefits of being physically and mentally active during maths lessons. 

Some examples of active participation include:

  • Manipulatives (think outside the box)
  • Think, Pair, Share (an easy one to edge in with)
  • The Pause Technique
  • Incorporating different response types – e.g. visual responses or written responses rather than just verbal
  • Mini-whiteboards (easily erased, it encourages participation and promotes risk-taking)
  • Drawing visuals representations (e.g. diagrams, charts or maps) (get students to do these too!)

As you may expect, a lot of the strategies and ideas within this pedagogical series will share a common thread with active participation. So keep tuned! 

P.S. Next fortnight’s is one of our favourite strategies! 

Pedagogical Reflection 

What are some active participation methods I’m currently using and do I have any favourites I’ve not used recently? 

How often do my students ‘move’ – in one way or another – within my mini-lessons?

References

Archer, A. (2011). Explicit instruction: Effective and efficient teaching. New York, USA: The Guilford Press.

Australian Education Council (1990) A National Statement on Mathematics for Australian Schools. Canberra: Curriculum Corporation. 

Ransom, M., & Manning, M. (2013). Worksheets, worksheets, worksheets. Childhood Education, 89(3), 188-190 Retrieved 27 December 2020, from, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00094056.2013.792707

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