Managing pupils and adults

Pupils

A key decision we make is how we choose to organise children for teaching purposes. Our choices must be made with regard to both pedagogical and practical considerations and always with the over-riding principle of ‘fitness for purpose’. Some 30 years ago Alexander, Rose & Woodhead addressed this issue:

Many believe that class size is a vital factor in effective learning. Headteachers, governors, teachers and parents appear to be consistent in terms of wanting smaller classes and there have been many research studies which support their point of view. However, findings are not entirely consistent. Blatchford draws together some of the arguments:

Whole-class activities are used with classes of all sizes. These sessions can be highly interactive with a great deal of pupil participation - see Mujis & Reynolds (Reading 8.7), and Mercer & Hodgkinson.

However, classwork can challenge both the teacher and the listener. For example, whilst some believe that whole class teaching can ‘pull along’ the less able, others recognise that engagement can be uneven, with some children ‘opting out’ even though they retain an apparent ‘listening posture’. Some children may be reluctant to face the risks involved in contributing to the whole-class, whilst there is evidence of teachers addressing questions only to children in a V-shaped wedge in the centre of the room, or to particular groups or individuals:

Children spend a great deal of time working individually. This approach has its limitations. For example, it has been shown that most teacher time is spent monitoring children’s work, rather than in developing their understanding.  At the end of the last century, Galton et al. demonstrated the unchanging nature of this position over time:

‘Groups’ are likely to exist in some form in every classroom. However, their form and function may vary considerably. Although groups are very commonly formed for task allocation, seating purposes and teaching purposes, relatively little collaborative group work has been found by observers. Baines et al. consider strategies for making group work in schools more effective for learning, whilst Kutnick & Blatchford use the SPRing project results to draw conclusions about effective group work. Dagley & English provide a broad analysis from a number of perspectives.

Meanwhile, Mercer & Littleton illustrate the benefits of group work where there are shared perspectives on how talk will take place:

Hopkins & Harris et al. weigh the benefits of whole class teaching and co-operative group work, whilst Ireson & Hallam (with Davies) provide an insight into the efficacy of ability grouping. Gillies and Ashman, in contrast, focus their attention on international research into co-operative learning in groups:

General texts that place the notion of group work in a wider frame of understanding, and look at classroom organisation more generally include Dean, Mercier et al., Jolliffe, Watkins and, with an Australian perspective, Gillies:

Arguably the purpose of developing particular approaches to teaching and classroom organisation in formal education is to develop independent learners, a theme taken up by Williams:

The whole issue of class and group dynamics and their effect on other aspects of classroom management are considered by several authors, including in a classic text by Wragg:

 

Adults

Parental involvement is particularly significant in work with young children and has a justifiably high profile in early years work. Wolfendale, building on her early work in this area, connects the notion of school effectiveness with parental involvement in a volume jointly edited with Bastiani, whilst Honrby provides a perspective from New Zealand:

A wide range of patterns of parental involvement exist, some of which are focused on special needs and inclusion:

The benefits of involving parents in their children’s learning is explored further by Whalley and in a volume edited by Crozier and Reay. Thomas and Pattison (Reading 2.10) consider how children learn at home.

There are many excellent studies of home-school relations, including that by Rogoff et al. Interestingly, some studies report that both parents and teachers, and perhaps the children, have mixed feelings on the question of parental involvement in classrooms.

The number of support staff in schools has continued to increase in recent years. It is easy to slip into the mistaken belief that the ‘classroom assistants’ are a homogeneous group, but see Hancock on this issue. Sood, in Cole (ed), looks at the ways in which teachers can respond positively to working with classroom colleagues:

The responsibilities and practices of support staff have been brought into sharp focus with school workforce re-modelling. Increasingly, guides for classroom assistants are focusing on the assistant role as a teaching role, where a knowledge of children’s learning is key:

For evaluative research on the effectiveness of teaching assistants, see Blatchford et al.; this is supported by guidance for school leaders and teachers.

In studies of ‘room management’, it is suggested that the quality of classroom teaching is very greatly enhanced if all the adults in a classroom plan together so that they understand and carry out specific activities in a co-ordinated and coherent fashion - see Lorenz and Vincett, Cremin & Thomas:

Fascinating insights into the perspectives of classroom assistants are provided by O’Brien & Garner and Dillow:

Record keeping is vital where several adults may be in the classroom. Ideas for record keeping appear in many different subject-based books and are influenced by the assessment requirements of the curriculum. This is likely to change dramatically in England from September 2014, with the introduction of new National Curriculum assessment requirements: