Where do they sit? Grouping students in the language classroom
I was impressed earlier this year when I heard friend and colleague Paul Seligson argue passionately, at a teachers' conference, that we do not use pairwork enough - that pairwork is the best way to get students really communicating with each other. His view, after all, echoes a widely-held belief that older and more traditional modes of teaching (where, for example, the teacher stands at the front of the class and the students sit in rows listening) are not usually appropriate for the teaching of a language - or, maybe, for anything else.
On the other hand, I was working with a small group of students recently, and found myself uncomfortable, for some reason, about putting them in pairs. It seemed somehow 'silly' when in a group of that size we could all talk about everything. Then I thought of times when the instruction 'get into pairs' was met with a lack of enthusiasm by some students in my classes. I am conscious too, of the fact that some teaching 'from the front' can be very effective. But that depends, I suppose, on what is being taught and learnt, and on who the teacher is.
All of these musings led me back to things that I and others have written about pairwork and groupwork - and other ways of seating students in a classroom. It was fascinating reading the comments of Douglas Brown and looking at work done by Malcolm Hebden and Jo Mason on different seating arrangements for younger learners. And so it seemed a good idea to offer a topic on the subject of student groupings and what that means for classroom organisation. Two of the articles have already appeared in a module on classroom management. But they are all part of this topic and so they been brought back to offer, with the new articles and extracts, a reasonably comprehensive look at groupwork and other ways of putting students together. All of this is together in our development pack.
I suppose if I had to give an instant answer to the question 'what's the best way to group students?' I would say 'differently' and 'often' - in the sense that there are many possibilities, and that they have different uses.
And that is what this module is all about.