Friday, January 20, 2017

One Easy Trick for Better Group Work

One easy group work hack: Give each student in a group a different colored marker, have them sign their names with their pen on the front of the poster, and then tell them you expect to see an equal amount of every color on the poster.

Here are some group posters my 10th graders produced recently when doing a group close reading and annotation of a poem—“The Guitar” by Federico Garcia Lorca.

First student did individual annotations, and then they combined their individual annotations into one poster. One of their objectives was to pay attention to the things that other people notice that they don’t—because the goal by the assessment at the end of the poetry unit is for their individual annotation to be as full of brain-work made visible as their group annotation is now.

The multicolored poster is just one idea I got from reading Better Learning through Structured Teaching: A Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility over Christmas vacation. The key to good group work is finding a way to hold individuals responsible. This is a really simple way.

Group work is the third step in the framework for the gradual release of responsibility named in the subtitle of the book. It moves from focused instruction to guided instruction to collaborative learning to independent learning, and I’ve caught myself several times reversing a classwork and a homework assignment as I realized I’d skipped straight from focused instruction to independent learning—you know, like when the IT person gives you verbal instructions about how to fix a computer problem you’re having, then expects you to go fix it yourself? Yeah, it’s not going to work really well, and there will be a lot of frustrated people.

I’m excited about reading and discussing this book with 13 other K-12 colleagues over a 6-week timeframe in February and March. I’m excited about what I’ll learn, about what we’ll all learn together, about the collaborative culture we’ll build, and about the better learning all our students will experience as a result. 

How do you scaffold students through a gradual release of responsibility to become engaged, independent learners? How do you hold individuals accountable for group work? What are you going to do to forestall the February doldrums in your teaching and in your classroom? If you wish you had more answers to these questions, maybe you should get together with a couple of colleagues and read this book because there are a lot more tricks where this one came from!

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