I've been thinking recently about the way I use focus groups in my teaching. I've been thinking about the way I give quality time to each and every child and the way in which I get to know my pupils at the start of the year. I came to the conclusion that it was time for focus groups to take a ride -  I'll explain why.

Until this year I have followed a reasonably standard format. The pupils would engage in their activity, I would take a different group for each day of the week. This would ensure every pupil had time with me (in their group) every week. I would sometimes mark that groups books with them there, giving them feedback and next steps. The remaining 24 pupils would complete their activity and I would look at their books at the end of the day. The remaining 24 pupils would be relatively unsupervised in their learning. I might perhaps leave my focus group to circulate a few times, but other than that, they would be left to independent learning.

I didn't feel happy with focus groups. Sometimes the focus group I had was just there so I could say I'd seen all the pupils that week. Often they just wanted to get on with the activity. I most definitely felt my time was better spent using a different strategy. I wanted a strategy that allowed me to have the freedom and flexibility to target my time where it was needed and for as little or long as it was needed. Focus groups were too rigid, inflexible and often pandering to box ticking. I decided it was time to scrap them.

The way my lessons normally go is I let them start the learning or activity straight away with little or no input from me. I then let the lesson take its natural course, adapting it to the needs of my class. I prefer to target children on an individual basis and give them 1 or 2 minutes individual time with me. Often, this is all they need and they can carry on and complete the rest independently. If they get stuck again, another piece of concentrated time from me is given, and so on. Different children will find parts challenging at different times, they will require different inputs and for different lengths of time. By fluidly cruising around the classroom, this gives me the freedom and flexibility I desire. Once I recognise similar difficulties occurring, I have the flexibility to stop the class, give input or get pupils to share skills and strategies. The class will then resume. This is the intervention marking strategy.

It worked very well for me. However, the school still wanted focus groups. I had to think how I could merge focus groups and intervention marking. The planning required a focus group to be written down for each lesson. I looked at the strategy of fluid focus groups where you select 3/4 pupil struggling on the same area of learning, bring them together on a table and give them focused time, sending them back afterwards to carry on. This makes a lot of sense. However, my goal of giving time to every child individually was lost. I would still have to show I got around every child each week. I would end up pulling pupils to my focus table when they really didn't need, nor wanted to. It was rigid focus groups in all but name.

As a result, I am still on the hunt. I am sure successful ideas are out there, I just haven't looked hard enough so if you do know of any, please leave a comment and let me know. Until that day, I'll be trying different strategies in the coming weeks, trying to achieve the goal that:  

In every lesson, the whole class will be my focus group.