Book title: Successful Group Work
Author/Editor(s): Patrice Palmer
Publication date: 2017
1. What is your overall impression of the book?
In Successful Group Work, teachers are given a sequence of activities to help students to prepare for effective group work – a useful transferable skill.
The author, Patrice Palmer, is an experienced English as a second language (ESL) teacher and self-described teacherpreneur. She references her own use of the activities, which makes the book may be particularly useful for ESL teachers or others who work with newly-formed groups of young people.
Physically, I like this book: it is small, clearly printed, and has plenty of margin space for readers who, like me, enjoy making notes. Of the 56 pages, all but 14 are dedicated to lesson plans, sandwiched between a brief introduction and some concluding notes.
While this could be positive, it left me feeling a little uninspired and unengaged as there is little opportunity for professional reflection or innovation. The activities are not targeted to a specific age group or subject discipline, and teachers should spend some time thinking about their particular aims before delivering the lessons. Yet the book’s approach doesn’t seem to highlight this enough for me – it feels like it aims to be more of an easy-access resource, rather than encouraging careful thought about your teaching context.
This is frustrating since I suspect that the book would be of most use to student teachers and NQTs, but the failure to acknowledge potential variables or difficulties with these activities could discourage teachers who might encounter issues. Whilst the conclusion and appendix do refer to some of the challenges associated with group work, I was disappointed that the main text did not offer more reflection on the topic.
2. Who do you think would benefit most from reading the book? What will they learn?
Although Palmer does not specify an age range for these activities, I think they are most likely to be of use to key stage 2 and key stage 3 teachers who are working with new classes or in new contexts, such as at the beginning of a year 5/6 residential or as part of a year 7 induction programme. Working through all of the activities, for example, would fill an extended tutor group session at the start of the school year. Older students would almost certainly find the activities familiar: whilst they might appreciate conscious reflection on the social and psychological aspects of group work, there is little guidance about this in the book.
The sequencing of activities provides a useful opportunity for teachers to reflect on how they establish group work in various subject contexts, and Palmer’s structure could provide a flexible model for medium-term planning.
3. What did you think about the quality of the writing? Please consider the tone, structure and ideas. Does it suit the audience?
The writing is clear and easy to follow, with each activity presented as a mini lesson plan.
A personal gripe is the somewhat prescriptive tone of the text. At various times, we are told what students “enjoy” or “are uncomfortable” with. These assumptions do little to promote reflective pedagogy and may discourage teachers who find that their own students do not respond to the activities in the manner that Palmer predicts.
4. Please discuss the research used to underpin the ideas. What evidence does the author use? Is it robust and up-to-date?
The book is developed from Palmer’s own experiences as an ESL and English as a foreign language (EFL) teacher. Other research is not mentioned and, whilst the resources may perhaps be of more relevance to the book’s North American audience, many school teachers in the UK will feel that the activities aren’t particularly new.
5. What did you learn from reading the book? What ideas/approaches/practice will you change or adopt as a result of reading this book?
Activities include familiar fall-backs such as “Stand Up If…”, tower building, reflective journaling, and assigning roles. Each activity is broken down into clear steps, with a resource list that can be really useful. Palmer shares guidelines for delivering the activities successfully, for example, the journal writing activity includes writing prompts, some thought about the value of journalling and reminders for teachers that any communication in journals is confidential and should not be marked.