Each week I participate in Twitter Chats with other educators to discuss a variety of educational topics. Well, this past week I participated in an elementary math chat and the topic was small group instruction. I was interested in this topic because I like to see how other teachers organized their small groups. The first question was what is small group instruction? The tweets from teachers began to show up on my screen, but as they began to pop up on the screen one response caught my eye. This tweet said that “Small group is better than whole group instruction.”As I read the tweet I thought to myself, “Oh, really!”
In chapter 6 of the Small Group Training Course it states that the fundamental goal of every instructor is to create a conducive learning environment. Small-group methods of instruction are one approach to the creation of such an environment. This rationale for using small group as an instructional method to master an objective makes complete sense. Small group instruction is not better than whole group because each one accomplishes a certain goal based on the objective that has to mastered.
Many administrators only view small group instruction as the teacher instructing a small group of students and the rest of the class is working in stations. This a narrow view of what small group instruction should look like. For example, I am teaching estimating solutions in problem solving situations and whole group instruction will not work with this objective. I will have to use cooperative groups to achieve the desired outcome that I want because I have already introduced Read Draw Write as our problem solving strategy and the students need to practice using the problem solving strategy in a variety of problem solving situations.
Also, in NCTM’s Smarter Together:Collaboration and Equity in the Mathematics Classroom states that the definition of learning has started to change. In the last 20 years psychologists have begun to describe learning NOT as acquiring knowledge, but at participating in a “community of practice.” So, working in small groups or with a partner can create the need for each child to engage with the problem.
I’m not sure why whole group instruction has become the red headed step child of education because it has its place in the classroom. There are some students that will get what you teach during whole group and small group will not be necessary. I’m not sure if teachers truly understand that small group instruction should supplement not supplant whole group instruction.
Teachers in grades K-2 have tend to see whole group instruction as the villain because they have been programmed to supplant whole group instruction with small group instruction by many administrators who themselves do not understand that small group is a instructional grouping with a particular purpose. Teachers and administrators must realize that there’s an art to teaching and small group instruction is NOT always the paintbrush of choice.