Unit 3 - Group work

Session 3.3 - Mixed pace group work with and without ICT

From OER in Education

Learning intentions and objectives.
In this session you will learn about:

  • pace grouping and its effect on students
  • strategies to discourage copying during mixed pace group work
  • differentiation by
    • task
    • support
    • outcome

as ways of allowing students to access work at their level and ensuring that all students produce results and progress in their learning

Success criteria.
To meet the learning intentions you will:

  • listen to teachers talking about their experiences of using pace groups and discuss
  • discuss strategies to discourage copying by students during mixed pace group work
  • read some background text on differentiation and consider if its use might enable teachers to set high expectations of all students
  • plan to teach a mixed pace group work activity with ICT

ICT components.
The ICT components you will focus on are

  • Planning of another lesson with ICT (Geogebra / Slideshow / Concept mapping)

Classroom based activities (with your students, after this session):

  • you will ...


Review of follow-up activities from last session

Educator note

If you are running a professional learning programme which follows these sessions in sequence, then you should do the review of follow-up activities relating to the (Category:OER4S CPD). The 'review of follow-up activities' for that session is available, and also shown below in the session text. However, if you are following selected sessions in a different order, then you should use the reflection appropriate to the previous session you did.

The review of the follow-up activities for this session (to be done at the start of the next session) is available here.

Educator note

There is no review of follow-up activities from last session available. You can go to the previous session () and.

Pace grouping

Activity icon.png Individual activity (10 min): Listen to a podcast on pace grouping. Listen to the podcast and discuss the ideas that arise. A transcript is provide to aid discussion and guiding questions are included below. Make sure you read the guiding questions before reading the transcript, as this will help you in analysing the transcript.

Activity icon.png Whole class dialogue (10 min): Discussion of transcript.. Discuss the transcript, together with the following questions:

  • Is your experience of grouping in the classroom similar or different to Agness’s experience (before she tried the new way of grouping)? Give specific examples.
  • Some people worry that in mixed groups those who work at a slower pace, or are less motivated, or less proficient in the language of instruction, or less skilled at the task (including slower at typing in ICT-supported lessons), might “coast” and allow others to do the work because they cannot keep up with their peers, or they might copy. What do you think about that?
  • What do you think about Agness’s idea that pupils should be asked to hide their work and then show it to the teacher by using the mini-blackboards as “showboards”, to discourage copying during group work?
  • What do you think about Brian’s idea of singling out pupils who copy, for example asking them a question or asking them to “show the class”?
  • What could be other ways to prevent copying, “coasting” or “free-riding” during mixed group work?

Educator note

During discussion of the last question, probe the participants to think of:

  • ideas during group work that focus on learning of new concepts. This is because the issue of copying generally arises when group work focuses on ‘drill and practice’ of what has already been learnt. There could be other ‘free-rider’ issues that participants have experienced and may have ideas for discouraging them
  • the usefulness of ‘ground rules’ (introduced in session 3.2) in this context.
  • Slavin’s criterion that groups must take responsibility for ALL members’ learning and they must make sure everyone understands, if participants do not mention this themselves; ask them if that overcomes some of the problems with slower learners not keeping up or contributing enough?
  • assigning different roles within a group (likewise, participants might mention this, if not you can raise it).


Agness talks about pace grouping.mp3

The description of the video

Agness talks about pace grouping.mp3, 1:23,(Series: OER4Schools audio, episode N/A)

'’’OER4schools Extract from workshop 4th June 2011: Agness Tembo talking about pace grouping’’'

Agness: It was a . . . a successful lesson to see what the pupils did in their exercise books. Yes. Most of them got everything. It was only three or four pupils in Banana Group, they didn’t do well and . . . she even asked me and I said, I think those numbers, they are big for them because they are slow in maths. So, I tried to give the exercises using smaller numbers so that they know the concept. Ah yes.

Brian: What was in the lesson? What . . . what programme did you base this on?

Agness: I remember, at first, something that was the fun addition using a number tree. There was a number down there, a bigger number and then there were some branches. Beside one branch there was one number, the other branch was the other number so others could add that number and the number at the bottom and they could find the long number. So that was a challenge so I had to go around to tell them that this number, which you have here, you have to subtract it from this number at the bottom for you to find it . . .the missing number.

. . .So I noticed that in two groups. So I had to go there and explain. . . They did know that it was addition but in actual sense it was subtraction for them to find another answer. So that was a challenge, yes. Because I remember in the other group [one learner] said ‘Teacher I'm through… If I go there, I could find the bigger … ‘ I said ‘No, you add when you want to check that the answers are correct. If after adding, you’re going to find this bottom number.’ So that was the challenge. Addition but it was subtraction, in actual sense.

Brian: Was it that you were reading the lesson or did . . they did most of the things themselves?

Agness: They did most of the things on their own. Writing numbers. . . I did not tell them and then they could give their friends the calculators, they could find the answers. The only part which, using the calculator, the Banana Group, they could press the numbers and then when they pressed on minus they wanted to see actual minus there. . .‘Teacher there is no minus here.’ It is not shown so they continued pressing on that. So, I went there, I said ‘No, minus, it won’t be shown here, just continue pressing the numbers, it will give you the answer.’ Those challenges were there. Yes.

Maud: Oh Banana Group. (laughs) Isn’t that where you put all your slow learners . . . in the Banana Group?

Agness: Yes, we have put them according to pace group. Yes, so that is what is encouraging in their first time in education. First when they come, the first time we meet, I let them sit according to their play group. After that, after assessing now, you put them according to their pace group because they say maybe if a dull person is mixed with those very intelligent they won’t participate the same. So, it’s better you have them on their own. . .

Brian: Do you find any from that pace group joining another group?

Agness: They do. Every time when you come in [they've moved]: ‘Go back to your places.’ They change.

Brian: Why can’t you allow them to remain there instead of . .

Agness: No. The rule is that those slow learners should be nearer the teacher . . . because if you get a slow learner and you put him at the back, truly it will be difficult for you to monitor that pupil every time. So, always the slow learners should be near the teacher. So that even if you are seated you can see what that pupil is doing.


Ivy: Sometimes maybe mixing slow learners and fast learners [is good] but the thing is slow learners will copy from their friends. They will get everything correct but they don’t know. . . so it’s better slow learners are in their own group.

Agness: But in… in the interactive way, yes, copy it’s there but it depends also on the teacher. I remember in my lesson, one said ‘Teacher! This one is not doing anything. She just wants to see what we’re doing.’ I went there and physically said ‘Can you give the calculator to her? Tell her what is your lesson? Can you… place all eight? They are all there teaching the writing to their friend. So it depends with you as a teacher. If you just direct them, truly, they’ll copy.

I remember. . . the science lesson on the rocks weathering. . .I gave them the [mini] whiteboard. ‘Can you draw what you learnt in the last lesson?’ One [child] drew the sun very fast and he said ‘Teacher! I am finished!’ So I noticed that [others then drew the same] and I said ‘when you are finished don’t show me, put it upside down. That’s what they did.

Only two drew the river, the rest drew the sun. So, I thought, ok, they’re copying, fine. ’When you find the answer, put your whiteboard upside down’. And they are there, struggling. And most of them were able to find the answers. I said ‘Can I see?’ and all of them did this [held up the boards at the same time]. So that’s what I am saying: you as the teacher should have different methods. You should vary, not stick to one method.

Brian: We don’t talk about copying. If one is copying, you just come, you wait and have them ‘Show me or show the class’. And that’s what I’m asking.

Discussion of pace groups: Judith’s division lesson

Educator note

Participants watch video, and then discuss.

Activity icon.png Observing, thinking, reflecting (10 min): We now watch two videos, to do with the pace grouping.

Video 1: Judith's division lesson Judith carried out a lesson that consisted of group work on solving four questions to practice division, besides other activities. The children worked in “pace” or “ability” groups. She encouraged group responsibility of solving the problems as well as reporting of answers by group secretaries. She also invited pupils to explain how they arrived at the answers. In the end, Judith made the outcome of the group task transparent by listing the answers of all groups on the blackboard. She also involved pupils in assessing their own answers and pupils’ involvement in it. In the following clip, she is checking the groups’ answers on the board and finds that a group of “slow learners” has scored 0 correct.


Division scoring

Judith's lesson: Division scoring (short clip)

Video/Judith division scoring short.m4v, https://oer.opendeved.net/wiki/Video/Judith_division_scoring_short.m4v,This video is available on your memory stick in the video/Judith Division folder.About this video. Duration: 0:37 (Some use of "" in your query was not closed by a matching "". watch on YouTube, local play / download options / download from dropbox)(Series: Judith Division, episode N/A)

Video 2: Workshop. Judith and others discussing mixed pace grouping and change in practice: In the this extract from a teacher workshop 2 days after this lesson, Judith discusses this episode and the notion of pace grouping with her colleagues. They agreed that the teacher’s role was to indicate that laughing at peers was unacceptable, and also that government policy for pupils to work in pace groups was problematic. Note: Since the time of recording this, mixed ability groupings have become a requirement of the Zambian education policy and are not solely something advocated by the OER4Schools programme.[Z].


Reflection on pace groups

Reflection on Judith's lesson in the workshop: Pace groups. Note: Since the time of recording this, mixed ability groupings have become a requirement of the Zambian education policy and are not solely something advocated by the OER4Schools programme.

Video/Workshop 21-3 pace groups.m4v, https://oer.opendeved.net/wiki/Video/Workshop_21-3_pace_groups.m4v,This video is available on your memory stick in the video/Judith Division folder.About this video. Duration: 3:49 (Some use of "" in your query was not closed by a matching "". watch on YouTube, local play / download options / download from dropbox)(Series: Judith Division, episode N/A)

Workshop transcript for the above video.

Judith: That was the group which is the slow learners, that group which [scored] zero.

Melissa: But these students, do they usually laugh at their friends?

Judith: They feel like laughing but I rebuke them. Eventually, they catch up as well. But some, they try. Otherwise it is a good idea to mix up the groups because those who are slow will remain slow. Those have accepted that we are known to be slow learners. So usually they don’t mind. But if they’re mixed, although the clever ones may dominate, they can help. It’s a good idea what she says. So that the policy of the government, it confuses us. When we are teaching ICT we can mix them. But when it comes to normal teaching, they say ‘put them in their ability groups’. (Note: In Kenya, there is currently no government policy, either to encourage or discourage pace or ability grouping.)[K]

Priscilla: I just wanted to relate something that happened to me concerning the teaching of children according to their abilities. I taught at a private school where we were encouraged to do that. We received people from the Ministry who really emphasised the teaching of children according to the ability of this, the ability of that. The underachievers are lonely, and stuff like that. You know it was quite a challenge because we asked them how we are going to conduct activities in such a classroom with children put according to... What you do is, you have to devise work for each group who come up with their own work. One topic that you find different work for the different abilities that you have in class. For the best you give them tough work, for the underachievers you try as much as possible to simplify that work. But they come up with whatever [they can].... But it was a challenge. I had about four groups of different levels so I had to write for the best, [then] the other group that followed them and right up to the last group. So it was difficult for me to prepare for this group and that group, just like that.

So we found it a challenge ... we reverted to the old system of mixing up children. Because another challenge which was there was the best group would always laugh at them and that is inevitable when you put the best children on their own, definitely they will be able to laugh at their friends and for the underachievers, it was quite difficult for them to even take part because they always feel they are underachievers, they couldn’t do anything. So I think I concur with what she’s saying. Mixing up children really helps. As a teacher, I have to be there, making sure that even those that are performing at their best, they don’t laugh at their friends. Such things are there in the classroom: when somebody tries to give an answer, the best student laughs at the underachiever. So there you have to come in, as teachers, you have to make sure you discipline such a child.

Aggie: The challenge mainly is in the exam. We do not have an exam for the slow learners. So it’s better we group everyone.

Teachers: Yes.

Activity icon.png Whole class dialogue (10 min): On pace groups. Discuss your own ideas on pace grouping along with those views expressed and issues raised in the two videos you have just watched.

Further reading

Educator note

Participants read this section.

Activity icon.png Observing, thinking, reflecting (10 min): We now read a short text about the issue of pace grouping and differentiation by task.

Background reading

Scenarios where students within one class are grouped according to the pace at which they work (pace grouping) and set non-differentiated tasks i.e. the same task regardless of their pace of working, can have unfortunate consequences such as those illustrated in the video clip of Judith's lesson on division. Students in the slower pace group failed to get any useful results and for this they were laughed at. One way of ensuring that students in all groups have the opportunity of succeeding at a task is to offer different groups different tasks based on their pace of working. This is called differentiation by task.

There are a number of issues raised about pace groups and differentiation by task:

  • practical difficulties
  • challenge for teacher of devising several tasks
  • students that work at a slower pace may be ridiculed
  • challenge of same assessment for all

It need not be necessary to set entirely different tasks for different groups. For example, in a maths lesson, all groups could be set questions on multiplication, with the students who are working at a slower pace being given fewer questions.

A very important point to consider in all of this is that “pace” or "ability" is variable and can grow; pupils underachieve for lots of reasons, including absenteeism as in Judith’s group, and lack of home support. But their achievement levels may rise if expectations are high and support is given. As a consequence, a teacher needs to provide for all students to develop their ability to the next level and beyond. Pupils should always have a next step and a new challenge to move on to. Whatever level a learner is at, they can stretch themselves and you can support them to improve it.

Differentiation by support is a refinement of differentiation by task and involves different levels of support being given to different groups according to their ability as all groups work on the same/a similar task. For example, lower achieving students may be given more information to help them solve a problem or they may have access to workbooks or text books. They could also be given resources that make it easier for them to complete a problem or the teacher could choose to work with one particular group whilst other groups work independently.

Differentiation by outcome(a) occurs when students do the same task but they respond differently, reach different levels and produce a variety of results. The task needs to be open-ended for this to work; it should allow learners to explore and be original. It can be done with ICT or without but it needs a clear time frame. For example:

  • collaborate to write a story or a report (using Etherpad)
  • create a piece of art with the title “new beginning”
  • investigate how plants grow

One way to allow students to access work at their level and ensure that students produce results is to assign 'must, should, could' criterion for success along with learning objectives. So, if we consider the example of 'collaborate to write a story or a report (using Etherpad)', the differentiated success criteria might be:

  • all students MUST give their work a clear title and write one paragraph consisting of 5 correctly formed sentences
  • some students SHOULD make sure to use powerful verbs in their writing
  • a few students COULD use direct speech to make their piece more interesting

Students could work in mixed pace groups encouraging each other to achieve their respective goals.

Teachers should emphasis that they want students to progress and be challenged appropriately so that no students stops working once they have achieved the minimum criterion for success. We will consider success criteria again in a future session.

In summary:

  • Set clear expectations of appropriate kinds of outcomes (consider using MUST, SHOULD, COULD)
  • Challenge and support students to reach the highest level they possibly can (consider using Traffic Lights with students so that they can indicate how they are finding the work)

Acknowledgement: Some of these ideas derive from the Differentiation Pocketbook by Peter Anstee. Teachers’ Pocketbooks, Alresford, Hampshire, UK.

Activity icon.png Whole class dialogue (10 min): Discussion on differentiation.. There is research evidence to show that teachers' expectations of students can influence how students perform. Consider this in the context of pace groups and differentiation:

  • Can differentiation be used successfully by teachers to set high expectations of all students?
  • Will this be easier or more difficult to achieve by using pace groups?

Judith's workshop reflections on pace groups

Educator note

Continue with reading, and listening to the clips.

Activity icon.png Observing, thinking, reflecting (10 min): We hear more about Judith's reflections on pacegroups. We now listen to two clips that follow on from the experiences in Judith's lesson. Later in the OER4Schools workshop Judith indicated how her thinking had changed through discussion with her peers, illustrating her open mind and flexibility as a reflective teacher:

“I have learnt from that to say, so those if they remain like that [slow learners together], they will remain like that forever. They can never learn anything from others. So the best I can do, just the way we have been discussing, to say, it’s better to mix them so that, at least, even them can learn something from the rest of the group. So to me this is an advantage I have gained.”

In a subsequent interview Judith was probed to elaborate and reflect further on the incident when pupils laughed at the group of learners working at a slower pace. She concluded that mixed pace grouping would be better than same pace grouping. Listen to these 2 very short excerpts from that interview.

Judith's Interview - Clip 1:


Judith interview clip 1 fine.mp3

The description of the video

Judith interview clip 1 fine.mp3, 1:23,(Series: Judith Division, episode N/A)

Transcript for clip 1: We have learned that if we mix them up then it is to the advantage of the slow learners because they are able to learn from their friends because when they are bringing group work every child will want to participate in group work. So, through interactive ICT, which we have learned, it is really helping pupils to share more ideas, including those who used to be idle. They are able to participate now. At a certain point sometimes, it is even them [idle pupils] now, who report, in their groups if the work is to report after finding the answers, they even get it and they report also. So, they are participating. It is helping every child in the class. Yes.

Judith's Interview - Clip 2:


Judith interview clip 2 fine.mp3

The description of the video

Judith interview clip 2 fine.mp3, 1:23,(Series: Judith Division, episode N/A)

Transcript for clip 2: The government has a policy whereby children have to be put in ability groups. So that time, when you came, the children were in their own ability groups. Yes. So, they worked according to their ability groups. So those four, because I put them into fours, but in that group of slow learners they are not only four, they are nine. But, the others within their group, the other group who have stayed the other side, they managed to get everything correct. But those four, they failed. The other contributing factors, those four who stayed alone, they usually don’t come to school. Yes, they absent themselves. (Note: In Kenya, there is currently no government policy, either to encourage or discourage pace or ability grouping.)[K]

Activity icon.png Whole class dialogue (10 min): Discussion of the audio clips. What do you think about this? Do you think that students working at a slower pace could benefit from working in mixed pace groups? Discuss.

Planning a mixed pace group work with ICT task

Activity icon.png Same-task group work (20 min): Planning a mixed pace group work with ICT task. You now have an opportunity for planning an activity using the activity template.

  • Devise an open activity where groups have a shared goal and where outcomes may differ between groups, for a lesson you are teaching next week.
  • Decide group size and how you will formulate groups so that they are made up of students working at different paces (look back at documents from Session 3.2 if you need to).
  • How will you ensure everyone participates and everyone learns? How will you stretch all learners?
  • Explicitly ask groups to make sure everyone understands the new concept or process; make it their responsibility to support each other and check this is happening.
  • Assign different roles within the group.
Educator note

Explicitly ask groups to make sure everyone understands the new concept or process; make it their responsibility to support each other and check this is happening.

On the above point, make sure to point out to participants that students are quite happy to help each other in this way and that sometimes they will even go above and beyond just helping each other in the classroom. The following quote from a teacher on the programme illustrates the point quite well:

When I was doing the leadership for learning, so I say if you find that your friend hasn't done well, create a situation whereby that person will have work to do at home, then you check the following morning. So it has continued just like that in class, yes, so they are used to doing it.

ICT practice: Different-tasks group work with ICT and activity planning

Activity icon.png Different-tasks group work (20 min) with ICT on spreadsheets. As usual, you now have an opportunity to work on your own ICT skills. In this session, we continue with spreadsheets in OpenOffice Calc or GeoGebra. We have done some of the earlier spreadsheet exercises from the list below already. See which ones you have mastered and which ones require further work. Also try out some new ones. As before, work in pairs, help each other and help other groups.

This activity will orientate you to make use of OpenOffice for creating spreadsheets and databases which can be useful for investigating maths and science problems. You will need to access a computer/laptop/netbook and internet. Access a web browser and navigate to this page: http://inpics.net/calc.html

We suggest that you go through some of the exercises on the page in this order:

1. Basic Calculations

2. Formatting Worksheets

3. Manipulating Data

4. Advanced Calculations

5. Making Data Visible

You can print this content on a separate sheet here: OER4Schools/Spreadsheet exercises.

As you work on your ICT skills, you should think about planning another lesson with ICT (involving spreadsheets, GeoGebra, slideshows, concept mapping). Remember to keep up the typing tutor practise too!

Connecting with overarching goals of the programme

Activity icon.png Open space (10 min). It's now time for the "open space", that gives you an opportunity to discuss issues that have arisen, and to relate those to the broader context of the programme. Do not just gloss over this section, but make time to raise issues, and probe the progress that you are making. You could use this space to:

  • Remind yourselves of the of the Most Significant Change Technique, and e.g. collect more of your stories.
  • Discuss your assessment portfolios: Is there anything that you are unsure about? Is it going well? What could be done better?
  • Check on the work with the classroom assistants: Is this going well? Are there any tensions? Any observations or tips you can share?
  • Reviewing individual ICT practise (such as typing practise).
  • If you are preparing a presentation for other teachers, you could work on the presentation (about what you have been learning, stories emerging from MSC).
  • Remind those who are doing audio diaries, to upload them.
  • You could discuss any other issues that have arisen.

You will find notes and summaries of various techniques and concepts on our reference page, and you might want to refer to those for clarification during this activity if needed.

Follow-up activities

Activity icon.png Agreeing follow-up activities (5 min).

Part A: Try out your group work with ICT. Video some of the group work if you can (ideally a colleague can do this for you so they can capture you as well as the pupils) and upload it to the server.

Part B: Remember to think about your own role in the classroom; it is not just to monitor progress but also to interact with pupils, assess their understanding, offer support and help move their thinking forward. Sometimes a group will even need you to sit with them and offer intensive support to progress. Think about how you can identify this need?

Educator note

In the next session, these follow-up activities will be reviewed. If you are using this session on its own, you can have a look at the review of follow-up activities here.

Educator note

At the end of each session, we provide an overview of the activities in this session, together with their suggested timings. Although this appears at the end of the session (for technical reasons), you should keep an eye on this throughout the session, to make sure that you are pacing the workshop session appropriately!

Total time: 135 (min)

Activities in this session:

  • Individual activity (10 min): Listen to a podcast on pace grouping.
  • Whole class dialogue (10 min): Discussion of transcript.
  • Observing, thinking, reflecting (10 min): We now watch two videos, to do with the pace grouping.
  • Whole class dialogue (10 min): On pace groups.
  • Observing, thinking, reflecting (10 min): We now read a short text about the issue of pace grouping and differentiation by task.
  • Whole class dialogue (10 min): Discussion on differentiation.
  • Observing, thinking, reflecting (10 min): We hear more about Judith's reflections on pacegroups.
  • Whole class dialogue (10 min): Discussion of the audio clips.
  • Same-task group work (20 min): Planning a mixed pace group work with ICT task.
  • Different-tasks group work (20 min) with ICT on spreadsheets.
  • Open space(10 min).
  • Agreeing follow-up activities(5 min).

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