Teaching Routines During Groupwork

Carlyn Bretey
Carlyn Bretey

July 21, 2020

In March, 2020, researchers Nadav Ehrenfeld and Ilana S. Horn released a research study entitled, “Initiation-entry-focus-exit and participation: a framework for understanding teacher groupwork monitoring routines.”

Within this study, they aimed to define prevalent routines that teachers participate in when overseeing the phenomenon of groupwork among students. Teacher involvement in student groupwork is understudied and without consensus. This observation-based, unbiased approach has proven an excellent way to inform scientists and educators of the teacher’s role in supporting students’ collaboration. The study also helps teachers understand their ingrained routines, even as there are many opinions of what constitutes “best practices” within groupwork.

Groupwork includes both social risk and academic promise, according to Ehrenfeld and Horn. When teachers integrate groupwork into their classrooms, they are choosing to balance these risks and rewards. Furthermore, groupwork can be challenging to study, as student discussion often veers off-course. Even so, a study such as this can connect teacher monitoring practices with enhanced student comprehension.

In this study, researchers observed eight lessons facilitated by experienced mathematics teachers. There was a particular focus on teachers’ initiation of conversations with student groups, forms of entry into those conversations, the center of interactions, exits from groups, and overall observable participation pattern.

Research Design

Dozens of classroom exercises were recorded via Vosaic for this study over several years. The recordings include the teachers “handing off the math” to students and following routines for monitoring groupwork. The researchers desired a video-based formative feedback (VFF) model for their study.

“For each VFF,” the study describes, “we used two cameras to film lessons. Camera 1, a tablet camera on a robot tripod, captured the whole class with a focus on the teachers’ movements. Camera 1 also captured conversations from four student groups through four separate microphones placed at their tables. This allowed us to hear some student conversations before and after teachers’ monitoring interventions. Camera 2, a point-of-view camera, was mounted on the focal teacher’s head, shoulder or chest to approximate what they saw as they moved through the classroom to interact with students.”

Using the contracted film, Ehrenfeld and Horn analyzed four types of activities teachers executed:

  • Interacting with a group,
  • Quiet circulation between groups,
  • Talking to the whole class,
  • and “other.”

They used this data to analyze tendencies teachers have within their monitoring routines.

The observed teachers were given an atypical amount of opportunity for professional development before the study, as they were selected from a group involved with a professional development organization (PDO). Through the PDO, they were subjected to ample examples of high-quality math instruction. They were, therefore, described as a best-case sample.

Monitoring Routines


The first recurring move in the study was “initiation.” Three codes were used within Vosaic to classify this move. The code student signified that a pupil started an interaction with a teacher, whereas the code teacher meant the inverse. The third code was unclear. These codes succinctly describe various teachers’ habits to impede on groupwork, and the amount of self-determination students feel they have in the classroom.

One consequence of the various forms of initiation is time allocation. Within the study, when one teacher initiated all conversations, equal time was spent among groups. When students initiated some of the time, unequal time was allocated. Equal time allocation is not necessarily best for every classroom. It can interfere with mathematical talk among students. It is a tactic, however, to ensure that no student is left behind. Coding initiation routines helps teachers understand their habits and the possible options for initiation, including the possibility not to intervene.


The second recurring move, “entry,” described how a teacher started a group conversation. The codes that pertain to entry included asking about results, answering student questions, and redirecting interaction. While most of these codes are generally self-explanatory, redirecting interaction describes how a teacher finds an example or anecdote useful to one group. The teacher then passes the example or anecdote along to other groups, even if the new group receiving that information had previously been discussing another topic.

Vosaic Form Example
Vosaic Form Example


The next recurring move was “focus,” which describes the central concept(s) a teacher tried to communicate in their interaction with a group. The study observed two primary focuses.

One focus was to ensure that all students participated in and comprehended the assigned tasks. Teachers who displayed this first concept as their primary focus often accomplished their goal. However, not all groups completed the tasks they set out to perform, which is an essential objective for many teachers. The second focus was providing hints to students or redirecting them on a path to successfully answering practice problems. When teachers displayed this second concept as their primary focus, groups always completed their work. However, they relied on their teacher as a resource.


Finally, the researchers asked, “How do teachers exit conversations with groups?” looking at how an exit can increase or decrease cognitive demand. There are three codes for exiting: open, which points students towards future discovery or gives them something to think about; closed, which provides clear directions about how to proceed; and unclear, which occurred less than 10% of the time.

Closed exits can be valuable in wrapping up conversations, allowing students to pace themselves and reach the goal of work completion. However, cognitive demand declines when tasks become “non-problems.” When teachers tell students what next steps to take, students don’t need to create thought paths for themselves. On the other hand, open exits leave space for student sense-making and encourage productive thinking skills.

Participation Patterns

Finally, the researchers used Vosaic to study participation patterns, which entailed teacher orientation towards students. This section included nuances like eye gaze, body orientation, and speech, which would be extremely difficult to study without using video software. There were three codes for participation patterns: teacher group, meaning the teacher was oriented toward the entire group as a whole; not teacher group, which described that the teacher interacted with a sect of the student group or with one student at a time; and unclear.

Teachers can use different strategies pertaining to participation patterns to serve various purposes. Firstly, a singled-out style of participation patterns can ensure individual student comprehension and provide a resource for students to “save face.” Students can also answer questions without the pressure of being exposed to the entire classroom. On the other hand, a group-style participation pattern can encourage students to rely on each other as resources.

Final Findings and Discussion

There are two main discoveries that Ehrenfeld and Horn made through their research. Firstly, the teachers spent very little time quietly circulating their classrooms when groupwork was in effect. Only one teacher in the study engaged in quiet circulation more than 12% of the time. Secondly, teachers across the board spent a highly similar average amount of time with each group: about 50-70 seconds.

Overall, experienced teachers include enough routine and consistency to observe initiation, entry, focus, exit, and participation patterns. By giving titles to these routines, they can make sense of habits for reflection purposes, and further connect teacher-group interaction and student comprehension. The study participants have since stated that the research helped them reflect and see different possible routes for facilitating groupwork in the future. As the study puts it, groupwork monitoring routines both shape the learning environment and are shaped by it, something that is only clear when the subtlety of those routines is captured in video. Teachers’ management of their groupwork monitoring affects students’ aptitude for problem-solving, and Vosaic’s essential tools make that process efficient.

While Vosaic is utilized among higher education, K-12, and even medical communities, it is also advantageous for research purposes. As the researchers stated, “It was great working with the Vosaic team and their tools on our analysis of teachers’ groupwork facilitation. The team was very friendly and responsive. The tools allow productive collaboration, they are stable, and they have an attractive visual interface that was an inspiration for the visual representation in our study. Highly recommended for classroom video coaching.” To learn more about the research, we encourage you to head over to the full article and give it a read.

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