The Sort-of-Scientific Method

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Sep 11 2012

Drama-Less Group Work, Please

Day 6: Sometimes, I wake up in a cold sweat thinking about group work last year in my classroom. It was chaos. I was trying to be a student-centered teacher, letting students have the freedom to explore and generate their own conceptual understanding. What I was really doing was standing in the middle of a loud, chaotic zoo of frenetic children. My top two priorities were getting kids to finish work, and getting kids to be quiet enough that any administrator nearby wouldn’t come ask who the hell was failing to get his kids under control.

Today was our first day of group work of the new school year. First, with some helpful advice, I was smart enough to wait at least a few days before letting my kids try to cooperate with each other. Second, I had an explicit lesson objective around demonstrating respectful group work, complete with think-pair-shares and group commitments to be respectful of their teammates. Third, the task was relatively simple. Fourth, each student in the group had a clear job?

The result? Rather than walking around putting out fires (metaphorical) or pulling kids out of the recycling bin (literal), I was able to walk around and ask, calmly, “Who in your group is showing respect? How?” The environment was under enough control that kids could focus not only on the clear deliverable – a poster explaining why it’s important to study Science – but also the more nuanced goal of respectful collaboration.

I’ve been a little anxious this week as I realize it will be nearly two full weeks before my kids touch academic content. We’re still knee deep in investment and procedures and culture-building and the Big Goal and … well … not Science. But looking out at a room of students actually cooperating meaningfully during the second week of school, it’s hard to mind too much.

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Experimental Procedures of a Second-Year Teacher

Greater Boston
Middle School

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