Sunday, September 25, 2016

#Alg2Chat Making Groups Work

Group work, whether formal or informal are a very important part of learning.  This is the part of class where students really get to talk through their problem solving strategies.  Students explain their thinking and learn from each other.  Misconceptions become visible and can be addressed.

I use informal grouping almost daily.  For informal groups, I typically use pairs only.  This might take the form of "Talk to your neighbor about ... " or a Kagan strategy.  My favorite Kagan strategy is Boss/Secretary.  The secretary does nothing but write what the boss tells them to write.  The boss tells the secretary how to write the solution to the assigned problem.  This is great for getting kids to show work, explain their reasoning, and practice vocabulary/notation.

I use formal grouping during each rotation in my hybrid classroom.  This equates to every other instructional day.  For formal groups I prefer to assign groups of 3.  However, I have some very small and some very large classes that sometimes require me to assign groups of 2 or 4.  I try to avoid groups of 4 as often as possible and I would never have a group of more than 4 as students end up being off task too frequently.

In the formal groups, I have had the most luck with limiting supplies to force collaboration.  I provide only one copy of the assignment, only one pair of scissors, one glue stick, etc.  This encourages the group to divide menial tasks (cutting and gluing) and share important tasks (solving problems).  Of course no set up is perfect.  In the past, I tried having all group members complete the task and grade a random paper.  This inadvertently encouraged the group to split up the work, work individually, and then copy the other group members problems.  I have found that less is more if you want real collaboration and discussion.  I even try to assign about 5 questions in 20 minutes to all plenty of discussion time an remove the need to rush to complete the assignment.

I have never really tried group roles to the best of my ability.  I've done it halfheartedly but it never worked since I did not enforce their use.  There are always just so many things going on in the classroom that roles took a back seat.  I have however found success in borrowing Sarah Carter's group norms.   I teach these expectations to my students by asking them to reflect on each norm as an exit ticket at the start of the year.

If you have any great suggestions for accountability and encouraging productive groups, I'd love to read about it on your blog or in the comments!

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