Toward a social pedagogy of classroom group work

Blatchford, P., Kutnick, P., Baines, E. & Galton, M. (2003) Toward a social pedagogy of classroom group work.  International Journal of Educational Research 39 pp. 153-172.

“In any classroom, pupils will be drawn together for many purposes and we can refer to such within classroom contexts as ‘groupings’.  The teacher often creates these, and the way that they are set up, and how they are used for particular learning purposes. If the relationship between grouping size, interaction types and learning tasks in groups are planned strategically then learning experiences will be more effective.  However, research suggests that the relationships between these elements are often unplanned and the ‘social pedagogic’ potential of classroom learning is therefore unrealized.  In this paper we explore the notion of social pedagogy in relationship to group work.  It is argued that research and theory relevant to group work in classrooms in limited, and that a new approach, sensitive to group work under everyday classroom conditions is required.  This paper identifies key features of a social pedagogy of classroom group work, which can inform effective group work in classrooms.  It also describes the background to a current large scale UK project which has been set up to design with teachers a programme of high quality group work in classrooms at both primary and secondary phases.  Keywords: Social Pedagogy, Group Work; Collaborations; Authentic classrooms. (p. 153)

An excellent article.  This focuses mostly on primary education in the UK, but the authors clearly have their finger on the pulse of not just research in the field at the point of the article being written, but praxis as well.   This is definitely an article I’ll refer back to as I’m putting together the full dissertation.


  • “It should be clear that there is more to group work than sitting students in groups and asking them to work together” (p. 155).
  • “By group work we mean pupils working together as a group or team.  The teacher may be involved at various stages but the particular feature of group work – perhaps its defining characteristic – is that the balance of ownership and control of the work shifts toward the pupils themselves” (p. 155).
  • “There is not space here to review fully theoretical perspectives relevant to group work (see reviews in Webb & Palincsar, 1996; O’Donnell & King, 1999).  The two main theoretical positions used in relation to group work have their origin in the writings of Piaget and Vygotsky (see chapters in O’Donnell & King, 1999).  In this paper we wish to emphasise that existing theory does not do justice to the huge potential for group work.  As we have identified, research in support of group work has tended to be experimental and sometimes assumes the benefits of competition between groups (which we are cautious about), and theory has tended to concentrate on cognitive development” (p. 159).
  • “The main conclusion to be drawn from this selective analysis of Vygotskian concepts is that they are limited when it comes to learning situations in school classrooms involving co-learners” (p. 161).
  • Check out SPRinG, the Social Pedagogic Research into Grouping (p. 162)
  • “Some strategies recommend same ability groups but this can be for classroom management rather than for learning purposes.  Group work necessarily involves a certain amount of ability mixing, though again this will be affected by the ability mix of the whole class.  The issue of pupil choice over the composition of groups is also problematic.  Allowing children to select whom they work with can reinforce social divisions (e.g., on the basis of gender, ability) and isolate children who are not chosen” (p. 166).
  • “we cannot just put children into groups and expect them to work well together” (p. 166).
  • “There is value in integrating group work into all curriculum areas.  It needs to be part of the fabric of classroom like, not extra to it” (p. 169).

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