Yee haw! It’s the 5th installment of Thursday Throw Down!
Alright… so, it’s confession time. I truly hope this doesn’t diminish your opinion of me as an educator.. but..
At all. Forreal.
Yeah. It’s true.
Soo…. do YOU?
Now, I know it’s a best practice. I know that some students learn best that way. And I definitely know the administration expects to see it in my plans and during walkthroughs. So, I do it.
Well, a tiny bit. And mostly, it was just literature circles. Now, I can rock me some literature circles, so I kind of depend on those 4 weeks of nothing BUT cooperative grouping as sufficient.
But, deep down, I know it isn’t.
See. Here’s the thing. Anytime someone says “group work,” I flash back to the days of 10th grade biology class with Mr. Sonnier. We did *everything* in groups. He would assign the groups, we’d all turn our desks to face each other, and then (usually one of the jocks) would point to me and say, “You. Smart girl. Get busy.” And, I would. I would sit there and do all of the work while my group members flirted and made weekend plans. And truthfully, this arrangement was ideal for me as well as the rest of the group.
How did doing all the work benefit me? Well… it isn’t because I learned a thing about biology (I didn’t). It’s because I didn’t have to talk to anyone, explain anything to anyone, or engage in any type of social activity with the morons in my group, which, for someone as low on the social totem pole as me, was always a good thing. Plus, I really cared about my grades, and I got to make sure every answer was correct without having to depend on anyone else.
And so, because this is exactly what I *DON’T* want in my own classroom, I have avoided it like the plague. Last school year, I decided that grouping was going to be the “thing” I worked on improving in my own classroom. I did many experiments (most failed) until I finally found something that worked well enough. And honestly, I think it could have worked better if I had started it at the beginning of the school year instead of in January.
So when school started in August, I carried that over with my 6th graders, and let me tell you. They really flew with it! I was amazed at how awesome this strategy can be when done early and done often enough.
So, here’s how I set it up.
I decided that groups of three is the magic size. Two isn’t really a group, and four or more always means that someone can sit back and skate by without doing anything. So, in those groups of three, I assign each group member a role. Here are my roles:
A – Reading Regulator
B – Question Captain
C – Participation Police
My students generally like to be the C member! It’s his responsibility to make sure that all members of the group are contributing equally, which means that no one is “hogging” all of the work or all of the talk time and no one is flying under the radar. It’s the Reading Regulator’s job to decide who reads aloud and when, and for how long. I tell them it’s totally up to them as long as everyone reads about the same amount. And the question captain is responsible for keeping up with which questions need to be answered during which parts of the reading. I have questions that are to be answered before, during, and after, so I need that one group member who’s specifically making sure they stop to discuss and answer when needed.
And.. let me tell you.. this set up is AWESOME!!! Here are a few photos:
Check out the worksheet in the student’s hand. THAT’S the other reason I’m still sane while doing these groups!
Besides the roles, which are super important, the other most important aspect of my grouping is my Before, During, & After sheets. When we’re doing Scholastic SCOPE articles, I sometimes use the ones they provide with the articles, but more often I tweak it a little to make sure it emphasizes whatever skill or content I want them to get or practice with the article. THIS is my way of CONTROLLING those groups and making sure they’re on track and having meaningful discussions and not wasting time. Each student is required to turn in his own paper, and I tell my students that each group members’ answers must be pretty much the same. Not exactly the same every time, but I need to be able to tell that all members participated in the same conversation and drew the same basic conclusions based on their answers.
And I can honestly, truthfully tell you that when I use this method, I don’t hate groups! As a matter of fact, I have actually started to enjoy them (GASP!) because I see how the students take responsibility of their own learning, ask each other questions, and explain things to their classmates. It’s really, honestly, truthfully AWESOME!
Here’s one of my Before, During, After Guides (BDA Guides) that I made for “The Stone” by Lloyd Alexander. I do this story with my 6th graders because it’s in our anthology and it’s a fun little story. The main skill/content I pair with this story is identifying and describing content. My 6th graders only distinguish between internal and external conflict.
If “The Stone” is not in your anthology, I found a link to the story online in case you wanted to try grouping this way with my guide. Here are links to PDFs of the story and the BDA Guide:
Thanks so much for reading about my cooperative grouping breakthrough! I hope you’ll link up your blog post about how you’ve made learning more interactive in your classroom. It can be about anything interactive – manipulatives, grouping, music, dance, activities, interactive notebooks, or whatever you can think of! I’ll be emailing my latest set of Doodle Cover Frames in Chalkboard Fill to everyone who links up!