Last week I came home from four days of learning about group work at Twitter Math Camp and rearranged my classroom to look like this:
I’ve done more group work with my classes in the past few years, but desks are generally in rows and then students move them into tables as needed. When students do work in groups, the interactions among group members is more like the parallel play that toddlers do. Even when sitting in tables, my students have historically worked on assignments independently, occasionally pausing to compare answers or ask a question of a team member.
Here are a couple of things that I’m going to do differently this year to change that.
Change groups at least weekly
I’m thinking of doing this by having students draw a card as they enter the classroom on Mondays. I will then write down their group number and they will take a seat at the table number that they drew. Because of IEP’s and 504’s, some students will need to be permanently assigned to a specific table, but this will be okay since the rest of their group will change each week
- Monday Talking Points Warm-Up
For those who may not know what Talking Points are, @Cheesemonkeysf describes Talking Points well in this post and @math8teacher gives another good summary in this post. I liked that in the talking points structure, no one student was allowed to dominate the conversation. Because students take turns sharing their thoughts, this structure provides a way to hear voices that might otherwise be silent. It has always bothered me that often the tone of my classroom is set by two or three dominant students and I fear that this may also happen in small group settings as well. I believe that the Talking Points structure is a powerful way to create equity in groups. I plan to have students do this as a warm-up every time they switch groups, which will usually happen on Mondays.
Centering group tasks
The idea with this is to have students create some sort of group product together that they work on at the center of the table. Placemat activities like this one are a good example of how to do that. I’m going to need to examine my first term tasks to see how I can create some centered group product for students.
What I’m Still Nervous About:
So if I’m being completely honest, I would have to say that I’m frightened about some of these changes I’ll be making this year. Here’s why: I personally do not like learning in groups. I feel overwhelmed by lots of noise and need time on my own to process my ideas. I do wonder if placing too much emphasis on group tasks can be disadvantageous to students who need independent work time and who crave quiet to gather their thoughts. There’s an interesting TED Talk by Susan Caine called The Power of Introverts where she talks about how some of our cultural structures are not meeting the needs of introverts. However, I’m not personally too concerned about this. Because I myself am introverted, my classroom tends to be a very comfortable environment for these students. I struggle much more to meet the needs of my extroverts. My hope is that eventually I will find a good balance between talking and listening, between noise and quiet in my classroom that will be a comfortable fit for all of my students. I think that these changes are a positive step in the right direction.