Whole Class/Individual/Group?

Julie Arrol asked me this question yesterday on Twitter:
What are your views about amount of time to spend whole class teaching in maths vs. individual/group work etc.?

I told Julie I'd get back to her, but my response needs more than 140 characters - hence this short blog post.

The short answer is that there is no answer!  All three modes are useful, and an effective teacher will use all three, but it is not useful to attempt to prescribe an ideal mix.  At the risk of setting up a straw man, I think it's important to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect lesson, and that a lesson which suits one learner very well may fail completely to meet the needs of another member of the class.

Having said that, the reality is that learners still spend the majority of their time in secondary maths classrooms either being taught from the front or doing individual work.  This is especially true for the more academically successful learners in S3-S6.  One could argue, therefore, that there is room for more group work!  I think the work on cooperative learning in maths is very interesting, as is the critical skills model of group working.  But we mustn't throw the baby out with the bath water - those of us old enough to have used the SMP individualised maths program remember students who could pass a test on ratio, but pronounced it "rat-ee-o" because they had never heard anyone say the word!

I suppose the bottom line is that teachers and departments need to find their own answers to this question - guided by discussion with colleagues and learners, and by honest reflection on their own practice.


  1. Thanks for your thoughts on my question - it's given me quite a bit to think about. The background to my question is here: http://post.ly/Mcwl

    I'm interested by your comment that 'there is room for more group work'. I agree with this position, but is this because that's what I was taught at University? How beneficial is group work to pupils? (I'm questioning everything now because of my blog post!) Where is the proof? Which research papers do we pay heed to, and which do we discount? And can we trust our own judgments, if they are based on (possibly biased) observations?


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