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How Do Small Groups Benefit Learners?

How Do Small Groups Benefit Learners? Image shows teacher with two pupils

With increasing class sizes in many schools across the UK, it is understandable that many parents and carers may be anxious about how their offspring are coping in larger classes. It is not surprising that small group sessions, catch-up programmes and intervention strategies are being employed both in and outside of school time in an effort to meet end-of-key-stage expectations, track progression and predict attainment outcomes.

But what kind of evidence is there to support the efficacy of small group and one-to-one sessions? Well, publishers of intervention resources and catch-up strategies are keen to show evidence of their programme’s effectiveness. Many of the studies report on short-term, rather than longitudinal research. However the reports make for interesting reading.(1)

One report from the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) recognises that no single intervention resource or programme can meet the needs of every pupil and nor do they offer instant solutions. This does not imply that the use of intervention strategies is necessarily ineffective, nor that small groups or one-to-one sessions do not help pupils make progress.

I have seen small group and one-to-one sessions in school and at home that have been beneficial to pupils, including my own offspring. Watching these learners over the duration of those sessions, I noted an increase in their confidence. Were the gains those pupils made solely attributable to the mechanics of the intervention itself? Or were there other factors in play?

Perhaps the increase in confidence was due to the approach and interaction of the adult facilitator, the way they re-presented information, tried new strategies and had a ‘mistakes allowed’ zone that removed the pressure to perform and the stigma of perceived failure? If those factors have a positive effect, is such an increase in confidence and its impact on progress measurable? Perhaps not statistically, although it could be argued that these outcomes are just as important because they are a foundation for resilience and a positive approach to learning.

It was interesting to read a report from one of the Education Endowment Foundation studies which also noted an increase in confidence from small group and one-to-one sessions. In this study, the teaching assistants observed an openness in the pupils to interact in their classes. A contributory factor was the attention of the adult in the one-to-one settings that was considered to build pupil confidence.

Our new platform connectEd offers small group teaching sessions. Find out more here.

(1) The Education Endowment Foundation trials and research projects can be found here

Alastair Fielden is connect’s Education Consultant with over 20 years experience in SEND Education and assistive technologies.

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