I’m a very good teacher but I’m far from perfect. There is a lot of room for improvement in my teaching. One thing that I consistently fail at is mixing students up as often as I should. In a language course, students tend to choose one or two partners they are most comfortable with. Since most of the in-class work happens in groups, students want to work with their buddies.
This is very detrimental to their learning because they settle into the same roles and their language skills do not develop as well as they could. To give an example, if one person in the group is good at conjugating verbs, s/he will be put in charge of conjugating by the group, and other people will not get to practice their own conjugation skills.
The best thing to do is to mix them up and place them with new partners all the time. I know that I should be doing it but it isn’t easy. Students really resist being separated from their friends and placed with strangers. They get sulky, whiny, and sometimes have to be almost forced to change groups. This is disruptive to the learning process and creates an unpleasant atmosphere in the classroom. So I forego this practice most of the time.
This semester, I’ve had two buddies in one of my courses who threw actual tantrums whenever I attempted to separate them. I stopped trying and just let them be. Of course, the result is that now each of them is lacking a crucial skill because he’s been relying on the friend to provide it. Both run a serious risk of not passing the course.
Maybe I should explain at the beginning of the course why working in different groups is important. It always feels like students get really bored whenever you start explaining the methodology of teaching to them.