Friday, March 24, 2017

One Easy Trick for Better Group Work #2

I just watched my 10th graders have the best roundtable discussion they’ve ever had. Everybody paid attention. Everybody contributed. They asked good questions, made significant contributions to the conversation, and built on each other’s ideas. And at the end, each person synthesized what they saw as the most significant points of the conversation, so it felt like there was a kind of closure to the discussion, rather than a trailing off when everything seems to have been said, or an abrupt cut off when the bell rings. When they left, I had a record of it that I didn’t have to keep. And all it took was one easy routine. 

Here’s the routine: Give each student in the discussion a paper divided into as many sections as there are students in the group (4-8). There should also be an empty shape in the middle for summarizing or synthesizing the whole discussion at the end. Students put the name of one person in the group, including themselves, in each of the sections. As the discussion proceeds, students take notes in the appropriate section on what each person says, and at the end, they take some time to reflect on the entire discussion, writing in the middle a summary, synthesis, application, epiphany, new ideas they built together, or whatever is the goal of the discussion. 

See below for a sample of the record my 10th graders produced when doing a roundtable discussion after finishing the novel After Dark by Haruki Murakami.

During the discussion, students feel more accountable to make and to notice significant contributions. At the end, I can confirm across group perception the amount and depth of each individual’s contribution. I have a record of the deeper thinking each individual at the end. And students are writing as well as thinking and talking. (Kelly Gallagher says students need to write four times as much as teachers can grade, so anything that provides opportunity for using that skill is grand!)

This roundtable discussion routine is just one idea I got from participating in a book discussion of Better Learning through Structured Teaching: A Framework for the Gradual Release of Responsibility with colleagues over the last five weeks. (Earlier I wrote about one other easy group work hack: the collaborative poster.) The key to good group work is finding a way to hold individuals responsible. These are two really simple ways.

We know as adults that a lot of our growth comes in conversation with others as we rehearse, test, revise, elaborate, modify, and extend our ideas. We’ve also all had really bad experiences as students and as teachers with collaborative work that can be terrible unproductive. But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater—find ways to hold individuals responsible.

Are there any simple routines or hacks you’ve found for scaffolding good collaboration?

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