My biggest focus as a teach this year is to support and grow student discourse and empower my students to own the classroom. I have always considered getting students to work together and have great discussions a strength, but I’m using that to my advantage not to be afraid to try out crazy ideas since I already have some tools that work. I’m hoping that by June I’ll have more tools and more confidence to share these tools with others.
One simple idea that I used recently might be my favorite way to small group students. I use MARS Formative Assessment Lessons in my classes quite often. In the high school tasks, a hallmark of the structure is a card sort where students pair up or sort two types of cards, then add a third set, then a fourth and so on. A recent example had students given a large set of cards to sort function or not. Then using only functions, linear or not. And then finally finding rates of change. Another example has students matching words with equations, then added graphs and then tables. The tasks take care to ensure students are paying attention to detail and have blank cards students need to create to finish sets. The FALs also come with great teacher moves, possible questions/misunderstandings and responses.
The card sorts are meant to be done in partners or small groups. An example of provided directions: “Take turns to match a situation card to one of the sketch graphs. If you place a card, explain why that situation matches that graph. Everyone in your group should agree on and be able to explain your choice.”
I start students off with their partner/group and let them work. I have never actually put up the working directions from MARS. My students developed a list of what they need for successful collaboration so I gently direct them to that if they aren’t working effectively. We also sometimes pick a specific one say “Listening and Holding Accountable” as a focus. They seem to have different working styles so I don’t usually like to be super specific on how to approach a problem.
Here is where the My Favorite comes in: When some groups have finished (I let them know ahead of time that many groups won’t be 100% done and that is OK) I ask the students to stop and either take picture or their cards or jot down the codes so they know which on they matched with what. Then one person from each group takes that and rotates to the next table. Each new partner/group compares results, discusses differences, or finishes off cards. Then the new groups get the next set of cards/directions to complete step two. Rinse/repeat. By the end of the activity, at least 4 eyes have been on each set, each student has worked with at least 4 different peers and all students get to the same place. We can do a whole class share-out here, an individual exit ticket, a combining of little groups…depends on the day and what students want. It is a simple strategy, but it works so well with my group this year. There is a little bit of movement, a lot a bit of discourse and what might look like happy chaos from the outside but really great cognitive thinking by the students. It is a small change that has definitely improved not only discourse, but keeping all student involved the whole time.
As a side note, I don’t hide what I’m doing from the students. We talk about why I ask them to move around or why the tables might be moved that day, or whatever other teacher moves I might be using. It is their class, they should know whats happening and why.
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