5. Learning in Small Groups

In 1970, I was very privileged to work with an outstanding group of teacher-learners in the North-West of Queensland. During my Inspection visits to schools, I saw lots of classrooms where earnest teachers were  trying to use group work as a technique. Some groups were divided on friendship lines others on ability, but there did not seem to be any real purpose in assembling the groups other than to get a specified job done. I did not know the answer to many of the questions that were thrown at me nor the ones that I had created for myself.

Then a booklet called ‘Learning in Small Groups’ arrived from I/D/E/A – the Institute for the Development of Educational Activities.  This was a group of Los Angeles  based action-researchers who work off campus at UCLA with well known educator John Goodlad. I had visited there for a short period in January 1970 and maintained liaison. I was truly impressed by the arrangement of the booklet.  It detailed twelve different group modes. It listed the [a] Objectives of each group, [b] the proposed Size of a group,[c] the Purpose of the exercise,[d] the Teacher’s role,[e] the Pupil’s role and [f] the Technique. It was a gem.

The booklet allocated names to  techniques, such as [1] The Win Lose Exercise, [2] Open Discussion, [3] Tutorial, [4] Assigned Roles, [5] Research, [6] Task-Flexibility, [7] Investigative, [8] Heuristic, [9] Group Talk, [10] Brainstorming, [11] Socratic Analysis, [12] Value Clarifying. When I later joined with Dr. Keith Tronc to produce Quality Education (McGraw-Hill, 1976), I changed the names to typical Australian outback names…because that is where all this happened.

Fortuitously, it rained towards the end of the August vacation and many teachers were stranded in Longreach. The bitumen road further west, ended there. On the first Monday of term, we gathered in the new Teachers Centre [first in Australia] and talked about ways of starting our own action-research through-out the North-West Region. As we discussed the first six modes of interaction in groups, enthusiasm grew and, somehow or other we decided to form a group that we called the MAD-LOT.  The origin of the name lay in our recognition that group work was a Dimension of teaching in Multiple Areas classes [as the new double units being built in schools was called]. LOT stood for League Of Teachers.

Out went an appeal and the response was inspiring – far greater than we had anticipated. Teachers of primary and secondary classes in schools from Tambo  to Hughenden to Gunpowder and Bedourie formed into the Bush Leaguers and a large group in Longreach from the primary, high and convent schools formed the Longreach Leaguers. There was a  most useful spread of teachers from Year 1 to 12 from all types of schools….one-teacher to city, aboriginal, convent etc. It was obvious that one term was too short as the effort required a great deal of preparation, assessing and reporting on the part of each teacher.

A description of each group activity from the I/D/E/A booklet was sent out to participants. They tried the technique out and reported back in writing to the Longreach group. The 22 members there added their own experiences in an open discussion. A co-ordinator summarised the whole lot and reported back to everyone as early as possible. By December 1971, we were able to produce our own booklet of this action-research with appropriate comment on how to use it as a guide and listing what techniques that we thought suitable for what year level. We sent it to anyone within and beyond the Region who was interested.

I think that we all came to realise that we had only touched the edges of a number of group activities that form part of the teaching continuum [see text].

Bush Leaguers H.Bonham [Tambo], J.Bryers [Happy Valley], D.Byrne[ Kynuna], T.J.Coogan [Bedourie].  H.Davis [Happy Valley],  B.Eadie[Hughenden],  J.F.Gratton-Caine[Yaraka], L.Gugenberger [Muttaburra], R.E.Hogarth [Boulia], J.Hope [Ilfracombe], T.Howard [Mahrigong], B.J.Hudson[ Barkly H’way],  A.Lavers [Barkly H’way], J.McMaster [Dajarra], G.F.Meikeljohn [Gunpowder], J.G.Nott [Townview], P.M.O’Neill [Katherine Ck], R.G.Pashen [Jundah], M.Row[Townview], R.B.Seeney [Blackall], R.Smart [Highenden], V.Southgate [Winton]. V.Springer [Ilfracombe], H.F.Staunton [Cloncurry], J.D.Trew [Dajarra] J.Trimble [Hughenden] B.J.Zipf [Julia Ck]

Longreach Leaguers [P=Primary H=High] S.Bradford [P], M.Campbell [P], G.Daly [P], D.Davis [P],  N. Florence [H], G.Galt [P], H.Haddrell [H], R.Hansen [P], Y.Hodgens [H], J.Jacobs [P], J.Leahy[P],  C.Macdonald [P],  J.Nugent [P], S.Palmer [P], Sister Ruth [P],  Sister Stephen [P],  Sister Teresa [H],  J.Swan [P], S .Swan [P], R.Thompson [H].