I had my first formal observation of the new year on Friday and I think it went pretty well. My principal and I sat down and had a discussion about the lesson, the principal prompting, but me doing the bulk of the talking (as I do a lot).
As we talked about the area that I felt went really well, I went to grouping. This is an astonishing change for me as I was the guy in high school and even as I started teaching that hated groups. They are terrible for the "smart" kids since they feel like they have to do all the work. Forcing students into groups almost invariable sets up some conflicts with teenagers, the kid they don't want to work with and won't, etc.
Or so I thought. As I moved a little bit up in the teaching realm at my last school, I had to think more about the grouping thing as I was expected to evaluate teachers on it (on of the things on the evaluation rubric).
Now I am full on in favor of grouping, not just the standard heterogeneous A student, C student, F student, but all kinds of groups. We work in group basically every single day in my room now and the groups change probably once a week or so. Sometimes they are homogeneous, which contrary to what a lot of folks thinks, works amazingly well, even for the kids who are struggling. Sometimes they are gender balanced and sometimes not. I don't pick them at random, but at this point, I know my kids well, have experimented and put them in scenarios where I think they will flourish.
That is sort of the point that I think gets missed in all of our talk about methods and student centered. Student centered is a goal worth aspiring to, but I don't think it can work well if you don't know your students very well. You have to know who learns in what way, who will get it with direct support and who wants to be left alone to puzzle something out. If you rely on a "system", no matter how valid it is, without the relationship aspect, it all falls apart.
My principal told me she was amazed that the groups all worked together and actually worked to make sure they learned. That when there was cross group activity, it wasn't to chat, but rather to figure out something another group learned and they didn't. Again, that comes with having trust in your students, and knowing the ways and scenarios that they will do best in.
The other side of course is that without some structure, having good relationships has to support learning and growth. Seems like that is a post for another day.