Small Group Instruction – Another Possible (Un)Productive Practice #MTBoSBlaugust

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2018 Ignite at 21:40 (5 minutes)

Global Math Department (1 hour)

DNA Math (Blog Posts) Discussion of the TQE structure.

I feel that Juli’s description of small groups looks like small groups, grouped by ability, often/everyday, teacher calling up each group to work with them on “their level” – maybe moving the questioning to a lower level, leading a lot of the discussion.

Some things I jotted from her webinar –

  • at times whole group may be better
  • have concurrent small groups where they actually work on the same task, teacher visiting the groups (this looks like my classroom often) – as opposed to pulling groups up for help
  • ask students “as a team, justify/explain…”
  • having time as a teacher to observe evidence of learning as well as gaps in understanding.
  • moderate heterogeneous grouping – no outliers – in ability
  • worthwhile tasks / questions to engage student reasoning

I am not sure what small groups looked like in my classroom pre-2002, if I even had any. When I did my NBCT, it was the first time I really remember planning small groups with intentional discussion. Even then, the activities were still very leading. I have no idea how I actually grouped students. Most of my small groups were about collecting data and modeling with it.

I remember using an Amusement Park task from Key Curriculum’s Algebra I. I modified it to use geoboard to map out the park. Students found was to find the distance between rides/attractions. Later, each student was given a set of points to plot, found lengths of sides and slopes of the rectangles. Then they shared their information with the group and they looked for/discussed found patterns. The goals were really about parallel and perpendicular slopes. That was likely the first time the group had to actually “find” something on their own. I feel like I’ve grown since then.

Around 2010, I was part of the KLN and began reading A LOT. I began paying attention to Wait Time and Wait Time 2. I started actually planning the use of THINK-INK-PAIR-SHARE. I discovered the Math Shell Site and FALs. The Making Thinking Visible and Five Practices really began reshaping my practices and planning.

The past few years, I’ve been using Visible Random Grouping, some classes daily. We were not necessarily working in groups for every task, but it gave them a varied group to discuss with when I asked them to turn and talk. I found that VRG removed some of the class status. It sometimes “forced” students to work with and talk with new people. I rarely had issues with anyone having to work with someone they did not get along with – they just did it, without complaint – it was the norm and it really wasn’t questioned.

As I mentioned FALs – one thing I love about those lessons is the idea to group kids homogeneously by their approach. Not ability. Not correct solutions. But by thinking. I am often amazed at how the groups play out when I consider their approaches. It really does provide a good opportunity for richer discussions.

As I began planning for the possibility of virtual classroom, using Kirch’s WSQ structure – I see the idea of choice in student practice – maybe Here is what I want you to be able to do, here are 3 options – deltamath.com, a small group working on a similar task (maybe a virtual card stack), or meeting with me to ask questions, get some one-on-one help. I am still formulating how that might look within MEET. Again, I am mentioned Flipgrid as a possible back and forth discussion of how-to, answering student questions.

My small group activities are what I worry about most with virtual instruction. Is it possible to communicate electronically? Yes. Students do it all the time. As teachers, we collaborative electronically as well. But how effective will it be academically? I just don’t want to waste time when I have students synchronously. I want to have that part ironed out and working prior to doing it with the students. Maybe I need to let them share some ideas on how to accomplish this task as well. They are quite tech savvy.

A few things Juli has me thinking about as we set up Norms for Discourse Virtually:

  • Ask students to provide explanation / justification with their solutions.
  • Make sense of others solutions (encourages discourse)
  • Communicate when you don’t understand or don’t agree

I’ve been skimming the Distance Learning Playground and it really stresses the importance of setting norms online – just as within the classroom. It is challenging to think about what I want it to look like, my end goal and what norms/procedures will help us get there. Planning is more crucial than ever before.

One response »

  1. I love the idea of asking students their ideas about working in groups virtually. I agree, they might have some great ideas and feel very valued that you thought to include their input. Sending hugs your way!

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