This week, we’re looking at small group sessions. The schools we work with are most likely to ask our tutors to work with small groups. There’s always a balance to be struck between the number of students involved in an intervention and the progress each selected student makes. Research shows that small groups of two or three students is the best way for a school to maximise impact from tutoring.
We’ve compiled a list of the five things tutors should definitely be doing when working with small groups in schools.
Teaching the right group
As soon as there’s more than one student in a session, the relationship between the students becomes just as important as your relationship with them. If students don’t get on or are starting the sessions with very different attitudes or attainment, it can become difficult to work productively with them. Sometimes you can work around this – find commonalities, use different ability levels to encourage peer learning – but sometimes you might be better off rearranging the group.
This won’t always be possible, but often whoever is arranging the groups for you will understand the problem and work with you to find a better solution. If, for example, a group of three students has one student whose subject knowledge is a long way behind the others, the sessions might serve to weaken their confidence rather than strengthen it. Whilst tutors should try their best to find a productive approach with every group, it’s equally important to voice your concerns with school and make sure you’re always working in the way that’s most beneficial for your students – thinking hard about the make-up of each group is a big part of this.
Setting the room up correctly
Often overlooked by inexperienced tutors, the physical set-up of the room you’re working in can make a big difference to the session itself. Where are you sitting in relation to the students? Where are they sitting in relation to each other? How can you manage these variables to get the best possible environment for learning?
When new to in-school tutoring, tutors can feel as though they’re in someone else’s space. This means they won’t feel comfortable temporarily rearranging a room and might just put up with a room in the way they find it. If you’re not comfortable in the space, this will come across to your students. Arranging the workspace so that it’s tidy, purposeful and appropriate for the task at hand will show that you’re in control and make it easier for students to settle into the lessons.
Using the group dynamic to your advantage
This is a simple idea: if the activity you’re doing could be done either with a full class or just one student, you could probably do something better with a small group. Students get a lot from learning with their peers – maybe discussing, competing, quizzing each other. These are benefits you can’t get as easily from a group of thirty students or just one, so embrace them and use them to your advantage.
Think about how you can tailor activities so that they require the students to collaborate. Can it be gamified to encourage healthy competition? Can they be working together to solve a problem? This will make the sessions feel novel, well-rounded and fun for students, letting them enjoy the group dynamic and get an increased benefit from sessions.
Getting all students to contribute
Part of designing effective group activities means understanding your group – particularly thinking about whether a certain approach will allow louder, more confident students to dominate. When planning for lessons or just asking questions, make sure to get responses from every member of the group equally. Students that are less confident will not speak up without encouragement and will slide all-too-comfortably into letting more outgoing students do the heavy lifting for them.
With only 2-4 students in the room, there should be no place for quieter students to hide and the habit shouldn’t be allowed to develop. Once a student is used to coasting through sessions, it can become uncomfortable to get them contributing further down the line. That said, it’s important to take different confidence levels into account and ask students to contribute in a way that they’re comfortable. The loudest, most confident student shouldn’t necessarily be used as the model for all contributions.
Maintaining school rules
School rules are important everywhere in school life, but never more so than in small group sessions. Behavioural issues are far less likely to occur in one-to-one sessions and any bad behaviour in classrooms will usually be dealt with immediately by the teaching staff. Small group sessions are the place, if anywhere, where a tutor is most likely to be faced with challenging behaviour and things can bubble over into a loss of control.
The best way to avoid this situation is to make sure the rules that apply elsewhere in school apply in your small group sessions from the very start. Small group sessions can be fun – and can feel more informal than regular lessons. Particularly with inexperienced tutors, this can result in a lax approach to school rules. It feels natural at first not to be too concerned with untucked shirts or a bit of boisterous behaviour. If your students are relaxed, happy and willing to learn, so why make a point of following up small infractions? But over a number of weeks this relaxed approach will encourage students to test the boundaries, lead to a silly, unfocused atmosphere in sessions.
It’s a delicate thing, but it’s not too hard to find a balance. Your sessions can be friendly, warm, relaxed and fun, but a gentle reminder of school rules (often even a non-verbal cue) will go a long way. If the head of the school walked into your session right now, would she be happy with what she saw? If not, you should take some time to consider how to keep an ordered and focused feel to your tutoring.
If you’re interested in tutoring in-schools, contact the foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org, check your profile for volunteering opportunities or browse our website to find out what’s on.