Sunday, June 2, 2013

Groups: Big or Small? Small of course!!!

I actually have two other posts that I have been wanting to publish - they are still works in progress ... but this idea about groups just needed to be written! Certainly to justify my choices - based on research as well as the Standards and Regulations and the EYLF. So here we have it ... My stance on large groups. Ready? It's 4 pages long in MS Word!

I’ll be upfront here about my bias. I don’t like whole groups for children. This is my personal belief around large groups. 

So. I’m tired of people talking about doing whole group experiences, especially with babies and toddlers. It is by no means appropriate. Please don’t justify it!  Just because a child is going to be in the preschool room next year doesn’t mean you need to prepare them when they are two! Just because a child is going to school next year, doesn’t mean you should start preparing them 12 months in advance!
“But the parents ask us to! They expect it.”
“The centre down the road offers it. We need to compete.”
“Their parents want to know what we are doing for ‘school readiness’”
“They want us to give their children homework!”
“They have to learn to be in a group at school!”
“Teachers from schools have told us they have to know!”

People. It is your job to stand up and advocate for what is right. What is right is developmentally appropriate and respectful for children. It doesn’t mean that this will look the same for all children – because all children are different! Services will be in different communities and have different social contexts. But it’s not natural for children to be grouped in large numbers at young ages. Think about our family units. Think about how many children we give birth to and have in our family units. Think about native communities. Think about your own childhood. We played in small groups in our community as children. I did attend preschool, and I only remember one circle time. I was singing. I mainly remember playing with my friends. Three of them. No more. No less. Three. Plus me.

Now this brings us to Dr. Louise Porter. Who? Well, she wrote: Young children’s behaviour: Practical approaches for caregivers and teachers(2008). In her book she talks about groupings of children. She points out that large groups or circle time, is a largely teacher-directed mandatory experience which does not support children in making choices. She also points out the obvious, that while some children may enjoy such events, there will be others who do not. These children often disrupt the event or might sit quietly in sufferance.

Looking at the rights of the child in the context of fairness and equity, how is a mandatory group time fair and equitable? There is NO WAY you are meeting the interests and the developmental level of all the children. If one child is left feeling disinterested or uninvolved or intimidated, how is it fair to that child? It isn’t. How is it fair to:
·         The children who aren’t interested in the topic being delivered?
·         The children who don’t have English as a primary language?
·         The children who are not at a high level of concentration?
·         The children who are full of energy and just want to be running or actively making something?
·         The children with developmental complexities who are NOT able to, either appreciate nor participate?
·         The children who are very introverted and would rather be sitting with two of their peers and their teacher, not sitting in a large group feeling uncomfortable and lost?
·         The educator who really wanted to read the story to a few of the chidlren?
·         The educator who has been told she “has” to do whole groups even though it goes against her personal philosophy?

It’s not fair. It’s not equitable. It’s not realistic. You can achieve the same goal with small groups.

Dr. Louise Porter says that children naturally group with others based on a rough formula: their age plus one. So for example I played with Troy, Kim, Joshua plus myself when I was three. That is my age plus one more (me!).  She also mentions the time frame for small groupings. The general formula is 3 times their age. So a 2 year old, MAY be able to engage for 6 minutes, where a four year old MAY be able to engage for 12 minutes. There is no hard and fast rule. Each child is a unique individual and should be treated accordingly.

So what do we do to offer children group times? Well, Dr. Porter suggests you approach a couple of children and offer them an opportunity to hear a story.  You tell them that story. As the story progresses, others will join based upon their choice to do so. If they aren’t interested, they have the right to leave. You are showing that you think children are capable and competent and able to make their own choices. You are respecting their sense of agency. So, if you repeat this a few times a day, every day of the week, you are giving children the opportunity to hear a “group” story ... It might be 2 children, it might be 5, it might be more. For those children who love stories, they can hear them over and over again. For those that aren’t so in love with them, they can hear less, and have the choice. If you want to see how effective this strategy is, keep a record for a week or two of who attends which groups, and see if everyone is included. If not, then approach those children who you know are missing out on the opportunity, and offer them a story or small group experience that will really inspire them to participate (Porter, 2008 p 148). Dr. Porter also talks about not preparing children for the future  – pointing out that most children will mature into school routines naturally.

 I can hear some of you saying “But what if they don’t mature into school?” Well, that might just be that individual child. There is no proof that if you had done large groups, that the child who takes longer to mature into school would have been more able to settle into the new learning environment. And, to be quite blunt it’s not your job to support children to settle into their first year of school. That is their new teacher’s job. It’s your job to support the transition. Not the actual settling into the new environment.

The EYLF talks about children having a strong sense of identity. Yup, you guessed it. That is Learning Outcome 1. Children will learn to interact in relation to others with care, empathy and respect show interest in other children and being part of a group. It goes on to say that educators will support this by  organising learning environments in ways that promote small group interactions and play experiences (DEEWR, 2009 p. 24).

The EYLF also talks about children being connected with and contributing to their world (Learning Outcome 2). It goes on to say that children develop a sense of belonging to groups and communities and an understanding of the reciprocal rights and responsibilities necessary for active community participation: cooperate with others and negotiate roles and relationships in play episodes and group experiences (DEEWR, 2009 p. 26). 

And now we move on to Learning Outcome 4: Children are confident and involved learners. This is where children are encouraged to resource their own learning by connecting with people and place, technologies and processed materials. Educators are encouraged to think carefully about how children are grouped for play and to consider the possibility for peer scaffolding (DEEWR, 2009 p. 37). How this can happen in large groups?

I also question that not all children are going to experience the same activity in the same way, nor gain the same learning from a small experience much less a large or whole group one. You are not going to be able to give the children equal attention. Nor are you going to be able to articulate what they got from it. If a child doesn’t speak, or if a child repeats what another child says, they aren’t really sharing with you their ‘distance travelled’ ... they may be in the same place as they were before. Or they may have gone backwards a step or two. How often have you left a meeting or a class or a training session and thought to yourself: “Huh?” ... I’ve left meetings feeling particularly stupid. It wasn’t until following some serious reflection and discussion with peers, that I realised I wasn’t the stupid one! I’m an adult. How the hell are children going to feel?! Are you setting them up for failure and feeling small and insignificant! Please don’t do this!

Ok, let’s step over there to Learning Outcome 5. Children are of course, effective communicators. Children will interact both verbally and non-verbally with others for a range of purposes, contributing their ideas and experiences in play, in large and small group experiences (DEEWR, 2009 p. 40). I don’t read whole group. A large group of 3-5 year olds could be 10/11; of 2 year olds it could be 8; and of 0-2s it could be 4. Think of the ratios as a guideline.

Having said that, I have done large groups, and I didn’t like them. The freely-chosen large whole groups I did were free-form dancing discos – but not everyone had to participate! And they were loud and chaotic and silly and often due to long times stuck inside due to weather!

Now, let’s consider the National Quality Standards. The NQS talks about groups of children. It talks about minimising risks of injury and minimising conflicts between children. It discusses grouping children in ways that supports their learning and development. The guide to the standard also says that Assessors will observe your service’s approach to grouping children (DEEWR, 2012 p 86). I don’t see whole-group.

The NQS goes on to say that indoor learning environments provide children with opportunities to make choices and negotiate activities that can be quiet, active, routine, small and whole-group experiences. “These spaces:
·         support children’s emerging interests and allow them to demonstrate their innate creativity and curiosity
·         reflect children’s different cultures, interests, abilities and learning styles
·         recognise children as active learners and decision makers.
 (DEEWR, 2012 p 86)

Again, I question how we can do this confidently in large, whole-groups. How can you cater for everyone’s curiosity, creativity, interests, abilities, learning styles, decisions, etc all in the one experience?!?!? And define whole-group anyway! It might mean that all children have an opportunity to participate in an event, but not necessarily at the same time in the same way!
The Education and Care Services National Regulations talks about relationships in groups:
“PART 4.5 156 Relationships in groups
(1)   The approved provider of an education and care service must take reasonable steps to ensure that the service provides children being educated and cared for by the service with opportunities to interact and develop respectful and positive relationships with each other and with staff members of, and volunteers at, the service. (DEEWR, 2012 p 163)
(2)   For the purposes of subregulation (1), the approved provider must have regard to the size and the composition of the groups in which children are being educated and cared for by the service.” (DEEWR, 2012 p 164)

While it doesn’t specify group sizes, it does specify we need to have regard for it. Why are you doing what you are doing? What are the reasons for your groupings!? Can you have quality relationships with 20 children as opposed to 4 or 5?

Also, in  Element 1.2.3 “Critical reflection on children's learning and development, both as individuals and in groups, is regularly used to implement the program” (DEEWR, 2012 p. 327).  It doesn’t mean you have to work with children in whole groups. It just means you need to consider them as part of a group as well as an individual.

And last, but not least, “Element 1.1.3 The program, including routines, is organised in ways that maximise opportunities for each child’s learning. minimising the times during which children are expected to do the same thing at the same time” (DEEWR, 2012 p 30). And that my friends is pretty self-explanatory.

Well, I think that I have sufficiently stated my position on large group times. And crap. I’ve just realised I’ve spent my Sunday writing a four page essay for “fun” ... purely to make a point. And not for uni!

Thank you for reading!

© Teacher’s Ink. 2013 All Rights Reserved.

1 comment:

  1. I totally agree. I have recently stopped whole group times in my program. This was due to reflecting on the needs of the children within the group. I have started implementing small group times, for project work and stories, it has made such a difference in the way the children interact with each other and the experience. And those children who usually didn't say much? They now have a voice that is heard. I don't know why I didn't do this sooner.