There are many factors associated with effective instruction that should be taken into account by school policy, school as an institution and each individual teacher. The teacher’s role is of utmost importance when it comes to factors influencing the didactical design of instruction. One factor which impacts effective instruction is within-class pupil grouping, which comprises the main focus of this doctoral dissertation.
We begin by defining and categorizing forms of within-class grouping, then present characteristics for each of them. We have performed a historical overview of the development of terms and concepts in the field of within-class pupil grouping, and found that they have always been the center of school reform, change, novelty and innovation, which shows the importance of their influence on effective instruction and good quality education in general.
Considering the fact that past studies of within-class grouping of pupils have shown a prevalence of whole-class instruction, we examined the possibilities of including other, indirect forms of pupil grouping. In the theoretical part, we present flipped learning and teaching as one of the possible solutions for a teacher to overcome the time constraints that come with indirect teaching. We define flipped learning and teaching, explain its characteristics and clarify how it differs from traditional instruction. We present an overview of foreign and national research studies and analyse the needs for further research.
The empirical part of this dissertation presents research that was designed on the basis of the research problem and questions, and was implemented as three consecutive parts.
We made use of a questionnaire asking teachers how they plan, implement and evaluate within-class grouping. We also asked teachers if they were familiar with flipped learning and teaching, and if they had any practical experience of it. The sample comprises 422 primary school teachers from all regional departments of the National Education Institute of Slovenia.
In the second part, we interviewed research participants who have experience with flipped learning and teaching, to complement and deepen research findings from the first part, in order to study the innovation more thoroughly. Our cohort comprised three class teachers and three subject teachers, a primary school principal and a student future primary school teacher.
In the third part of the research we performed a pedagogical experiment in Math and English. The cohort of this study comprised 65 7th grade pupils. We analysed their judgment of the effectiveness of within-class grouping, flipped learning and teaching, and compared the learning achievements of control and experimental groups.
Our results are presented in five sections. In the first, we analyse and interpret results connected with teacher’s planning of within-class grouping. We found that teachers are aware that appropriate within-class grouping contributes to the quality of instruction. A large majority of teachers believe that careful consideration of within-class grouping of pupils is (very) important. A third of the teachers emphasised that appropriately chosen forms of within-class grouping have an effect on the quality and retention of pupils’ knowledge. We also found that most teachers write down the planned forms of within-class pupil grouping in their lesson plan and adjust them to their pupils’ needs during instruction.
The second section is about the way teachers implement within-class grouping. We paid special attention to the frequency of each form of grouping in individual instructional phases, as well as in instruction as a whole. The main findings show that teachers self-report whole-class instruction as the most frequently used form of grouping. Whole-class instruction is closely followed by individualised learning. Pairwork was reported less frequently by teachers and group work was reported the least. However, we must add that the differences in frequency between forms of grouping are fairly small, which does not agree with former research findings telling of the prevalence of whole-class instruction. Modification and combination of the forms of within-class grouping is an important factor of internal differentiation and individualisation, so we wondered how often teachers use several different forms of grouping during the same learning activity. We discovered that a great majority of teachers sometimes or frequently make use of several different forms of grouping simultaneously. Thus, we believe that this phenomenon deserves further attention in future research.
In the third section, we introduce how often teachers evaluate forms of grouping and to what extent they adjust future planning and implementation to their findings. A large majority of teachers answered that it is true or at least partly true that they regularly analyse implemented forms of grouping, and adapt grouping forms in future instruction according to these findings. We also analysed teachers’ judgment of each form of grouping, and ratings of their own qualification for effective implementation and combination of grouping forms. In general, teachers told that they are quite well qualified for the implementation of various forms of pupil grouping. However, they rated their own qualification to effectively combine different forms of grouping a little lower. The results of teacher’s assessments of the effectiveness of each form of grouping show that teachers give the highest rating to individualised learning, closely followed by whole-class teaching. The effectiveness of group work was rated with a lower average mark, while pairwork was rated as the least effective form.
The fourth section is dedicated to the didactical innovation called flipped learning and teaching. We analyse the familiarity of Slovenian teachers with this innovation, their attitudes towards it and to the innovation process in general, to find that Slovenian teachers are more familiar with flipped learning and teaching than we expected. Nearly 60% of teachers know about it, but only 6% have actually implemented it in class. We also learnt that Slovenian teachers have a very positive attitude towards flipped learning and teaching and that most of them (completely) agree that they would like to attend training about this didactical innovation. Analyses and interpretations of results in the fourth section are deepened by findings derived from our personal interviews with teachers.
Our experimental results show that Math pupils from the experimental group felt appropriately burdened with homework, while pupils from the control group felt this to a lesser degree. Pupils from experimental groups expressed positive attitudes about the video recordings in both subjects. The experimental groups in both subjects improved their learning achievements while control groups did not. Moreover, the improvements in English learning achievements were statistically significant.
In the last, fifth, section, we present how different factors are associated with teacher’s choice of pupil grouping form. There was no significant association with any of the factors, but there were some statistically significant differences evident between the teachers who choose different forms of grouping. Based on the collected results we designed a model of teacher’s choice of forms of within-class grouping of pupils. Additionally, we formed guidelines for more effective planning, implementation and evaluation of within-class grouping at the levels of the school system, individual schools, teachers, and pupils. Our empirical research is the first Slovenian study to thoroughly evaluate (all) specified forms of pupil grouping, and complements the findings about effective instruction to date. It also represents a scientific and applicative contribution to the field of Didactics and Teacher Education.