Saturday, January 31, 2015

New Steps I'm Taking to Improve Group Work

I'm working a lot harder on making group work work in my classroom this semester.  I implemented some changes first semester, and expected it to work for itself from there...uh, duh Kathryn, you can't just put things in place and expect them to run themselves.  So I've been more thoughtful about it this semester, and trying to patiently look for small improvements.  Since I rarely blog, I will discuss all changes I have made this year.

First Semester

Desks in Groups of 4:  I have tables, so I've pushed two together to make groups of four.  I had this on and off last year, but I haven't even considered changing it once this year.

Group Supply Tubs:  I organized supplies into group tubs.  Something I sort of had last year, but that didn't work very well.  I also was intentional about not putting too much stuff in at the beginning of the year.

Roles:  I wrote about my role cards before school started, but I expected a little prep and some pretty cards to be enough for students to "play their role" every time...that is not enough.

Talking Points:  We do talking points as a warm-up every Thursday.  This helps give every student a voice.

Then I'd also throw around the phrase "do this in your groups" a lot and feel frustrated that they really weren't.  So I have tried to be more thoughtful.

Second Semester

Role Explanations in Notebook:  I made a half-sheet explanation of all the roles for students to put into their ISNs.  This way they ALWAYS had access to them and I could hold them more accountable.

Group Tasks:  I have been a lot more intentional about groups tasks.  One scored group task every unit is my challenge for myself.  This is super structured, and involves a significant amount of prep.  An important thing I learned from Elizabeth and our morning session at #TMC14 is to put in checkpoints for groups to call me over and see how they are progressing.  This helps a lot.  I even carry around a roster so that I can mark off what checkpoint each student has completed.  Then when I'm prepping for day 2 of the task, I have an idea of where everyone is and who I should maybe guide right from the beginning.

At this point I haven't done any amazingly exploratory/discovery task, but I think that's OK.  I'm not super-teacher, so small steps is what it is going to take.  I've turned some things I did last year (that I liked) into tasks that I now like better.  I'm sure they will morph next year into things I like even better...oh the joys of teaching!

Here is my sequence task:  Instructions, Cut Outs

Here is my function task:  Instructions, Cut Outs, Recording Sheet

Acknowledging What I Like:  I've been intentionally looking for things that I like during the group work time so that I can praise those things.  This helps me and my students, because I see the good things rather than the bad, and they feel encouraged.  It also leads to improvement because others see what I like from a group and they can work to do it in their group.

I actually just had a thought while I was blogging this that I'm going to try Monday.  I'm going to use my whiteboard to give these acknowledgements.  It is semi-public in that the entire class can see (but not other classes), but I don't have to spend the last couple minutes of class giving shout outs that they might forget by the next day.  AND other groups can IMMEDIATELY implement changes to get acknowledged as well.  I could even start with a few things on the board that I'm looking for and then write up the table number when I see that group doing it.

Group Reflections:  Every day we do any group work task work, I have them complete a quick reflection.  I'm sure I stole the questions from Elizabeth (bottom of this post) and just modified it a bit. It's just a quarter sheet, so I make a ton of copies and have them ready.  My hope is that by regularly trying to give a compliment to someone for playing their role they will become more familiar with the responsibilities of each role.  I might modify the reflection next task to involve something the individual did as well as something another person did.  Try to slowly increase the expectation that EVERYONE is playing their role.

Here is a link to what I've been giving (4 to a page).  And here is what I created for next time (2 to a page).

That's where I'm at with group work right now.  I'm proud of the changes I've made, but also disappointed that we're not farther along.  I have been realizing this year how long real change takes.  And it is a little disheartening because I'm starting to understand that it's going to take more than just me to make real change for our students.  We really need every teacher on board to make real change for students.

Let me know if you see something big (or small) that I'm missing that would make group work more valuable for my students.  I know that it is not ideal at this point, but I'm working on getting better.


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