Group working, for some becomes a ritualistic activity, where children are given “roles” to be enacted almost within a scenario. Where this falls down, in my experience, is that the child then has to think how a chair or reporter has to think then possibly act out of character. It is the equivalent of playing charades, something I seek to avoid at parties!
Having a problem to solve and talking together, making decisions about working methods, structuring a plan of action and then following through together, with permission to evaluate and adapt on the way, has always been my personal approach, across a range of Primary subjects.
Given a challenge, as equations or an investigation in maths, a collaborative story/play in English, a cooperative piece of art work, a science investigation or DT working model, each has given sufficient idea of an “end point” to provide the stimulus for activity. Self-determining groups also became self-moderating groups, ensuring that everyone contributed.
I have used this approach with every age between 4 and 16, with positive outcomes. Yes, some may contribute a little less than others, but peer pressure can be a very powerful driver.
The need to articulate thinking, so that every member of the group is fully aware of what is happening, is an important element. Good communication enables clarification, the bringing together of multiple viewpoints. Planning processes support action, with the ability to harness specific skills, enhancing the status of some who may have a chance to demonstrate often hidden abilities. Permission to evaluate and to reassess working methodologies, in-task, allows for an “oops” moment and a rethinking of ideas.
The independence that can be created through high quality, purposeful group activity enables a teacher to identify and focus on those who need support through different stages. It is important for the process to be evident, as reflection on the process, as well as the outcome enables children to improve stages and therefore subsequent efforts.
Ultimately, the essential components of independent group work are quality challenges to get their teeth into, a manageable group size, possibly 2/3 at 5-7, 3/4 at 7-16; although some topics may lend themselves to other sizes.
They need something that requires high quality talk that offers a clear purpose and has a definite end point, preferably with a broad audience, as a presentation or display.
Group work can embed much of the social curriculum; getting on together and seeing the other side of someone.
Group work is effectively a life skill.