A core part of the educational experience, it is vital that students develop skills such as communication, collaboration, and emotional intelligence to equip them for further education and the workplace. As all teachers know, groupwork is vital to the development of such competences.
However, many teachers across the UK are currently dealing with issues of overcrowding and inadequate facilities; with classrooms that are simply not conducive to effective team activities.
In the workplace, productivity has been directly linked to environmental design, with improvements in comfort and access to suitable spaces having a direct impact on employee performance and satisfaction. Why should the classroom be any different?
So, with learning environments playing a big part in the academic performance of pupils, and the benefits of groupwork in schools key to developing the skills students need to succeed, what can teachers do to get the best results from the space they have?
Rethinking the modern learning environment – how to ensure effective groupwork in schools
There are some novel ways of conducting group work in small spaces that savvy teachers can implement with the minimum amount of fuss, resource, and disruption.
1. Create a flexible classroom
Many classrooms look the same today as they did 200 years ago. However, while collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking are at the heart of modern learning, fostering these skills is almost impossible with pupils inactive in rows of desks all day.
Flexible classrooms provide students with a range of different learning spaces. For example, rather than sitting at a desk, pupils could be standing up, kneeling at low tables, or even lying on the floor. Children are asked to articulate why they have chosen a particular learning space, and why it works for them. For example, a pupil may opt to read on the floor, because that is where they are most comfortable. Of course, teachers are always able to move students on if they are not entirely engaged and working at their self-chosen spots!
Movement helps pupils to refocus, and increases their ability to pay attention. tweet
Even just allowing students to change seats while learning helps their brains to function more efficiently. Spaces can be created that foster group activity such as the use of round tables, floor areas with pillows, and couches instead of desks.
In the flexible classroom, teachers can teach from anywhere, with no front or back of the classroom. tweet
The Bring your Own Device (BYOD) initiative, which allows children to bring their own smartphones, laptops, or tablets into lessons, helps to enrich the possibilities of the flexible classroom even further, with mobile devices accessible from any learning spot.
2. Maximise all available school space
Libraries, meeting rooms and corridors can all be used as spaces for learning. Indeed, while, teaching in corridors sounds like a nightmare for most teachers, offices across the UK strategically place sofas in corridors; using these spaces as breakout areas when meeting rooms are oversubscribed, or more a more relaxed environment is suitable to the group task at hand.
One primary school in Denmark is even using its stairs as space for the whole school to gather and learn together.
Likewise, learning doesn’t always have to take place inside educational buildings, and the confines of the classroom don’t work for every student. Playgrounds and outside safe spaces can be used to foster creativity, while helping groups of pupils to put their learning into context.
3. Make the most of technology
Educational technology is a teacher’s best friend when it comes to tackling group work in small spaces. Even equipment which is traditionally seen as a front of class tool can be used in more creative ways, to make the most of the space at hand.
Interactive Whiteboards, for example, can be used by small groups to work around, while the rest of the class carries out other activities. Individual pupils can even take turns running these sessions, and groups can present to the rest of the class, helping to foster leadership skills and boost confidence.
Laptops, tablets and other mobile devices can also be used to support the flexible classroom model, with small groups working together to complete projects.
4. Think beyond the classroom
This generation of pupils is extremely socially-inclined, with students constantly sharing information via smartphones and social media. Capitalising on this spirit of collaboration, teachers can use modern technology to enhance group work outside of the classroom.
For example, hosted online, ClassFlow delivers content that students can access anytime, anywhere; lending itself to flipped learning teaching methods. With pupils able to complete group projects and collaborate with each other at home as well as in the classroom, space is no longer an issue.
In an ideal world, schools would have the budget to create engaging and inviting classrooms for all. In reality, even where the budget does exist, making physical improvements takes time, and this does not help when additional space is required needed immediately.
However by making some small changes to way classrooms are run, teachers won’t only maximise the space available to them, but also achieve increased collaboration and deeper student engagement as a result.