Group work and active learning, buzzwords and they will always be buzzwords and so they should be! Group work has an integral part to play in the Irish classroom. It is one of the key methodologies of each Curriculum subject but how do we do it?
My first advice is to establish some ground rules…Why? Because, things can and will get out of hand in a pretty vocal and disruptive way that prevents the children from learning and also prevents the teacher from carrying out the lesson objective. What type of rules would benefit group work? They will no doubt be personal to you as a teacher and also personal to your classroom. It depends on if you have the “noisy but hard working” class or the ” quiet and unmotivated” class… Noise is fine but noise is not fine if it leaves some of the children and adults in the classroom with a headache and feeling sick, remember some of your children are probably introverted and most of them are probably extroverted so keep this in mind when looking at your noise level. I have seen some very good ideas in classrooms regarding noise levels.
One teacher I knew used a “Noise thermostat”, this has a couple of tags like quiet, whisper, group work, way too noisy STOP! The teacher would then non-verbally move the arrow to the corresponding “noise” tag and the children could see how they were getting on. I would consider each group having their own “noise thermostat”.
I would advocate the non-verbal communicative signal, a hand signal, a thumbs up or thumbs down or a “lamha suas” signal works wonders. Don’t get into the habit of using your precious voice to alert the children to hen you need to get their attention. A teacher I once worked with used a mini bell to get their attention as her voice had almost gone. I guess the lesson is not to let it get to that point.
A friend of mine advocated speaking to the children in your own circle time and bringing up the issue of the noise levels and how it was making the teacher feel. The children came up with excellent ideas and advice and they decided to collectively work towards a class reward every week by controlling their noise level.