Next year, we are restructuring our RTI block to be a time when students are working in small groups in their classrooms. This is a really exciting change from our previous model in which students were pulled from their classroom for intervention. This change will shift our Learning Lab focus to planning small group activities, however the first, REALLY important, piece we need to focus on is how small groups work in the classroom. I think the K-1 teachers have a much better sense of how centers work within the classroom, although we still want to move from the current centers to more strategically planned small groups. So, with only a week and a half left of school, Erin and I are playing around with some ideas in the classrooms as a part of our planning! Fun!
Erin and I planned for a 4th grade class today where we were going to test out a small group scenario. We started in a way I imagine everyone could kick off the year next year, involving students in the process. We asked them what they needed in order to learn in small groups. Below are all of their great responses, most of which were accompanied by an example of something they had experienced during small group work.
I launched the small group task by reading One Hundred Hungry Ants aloud, pausing occasionally to ask for predictions. After the reading, I didn’t preview the task, but instead sent them off to work in their small groups. This was for two reasons: to see if the wording of the task was clear enough for students to follow independently and to see how they worked as a small group. We choose to give everyone the same task today to see how it went but we are trying different small group tasks tomorrow.
Each group had a journal, storyboard, and this task card:
They worked for about half an hour and had some great conversations. I especially liked the conversation sparked by the third question because number choice is something I find so interesting. They also had to do some serious negotiating to decide which number they would do as a group since everyone had different reasons. In one group a student wanted to pick 2 because they would “get there faster,” another wanted 75 because “it could make a lot of combinations, but be less than 100 so they could still make it in time.” In another group, a student was saying he didn’t want any prime numbers because you could only do two lines with them.
This one was great because they changed the storyline from finding a picnic to getting to Dairy Queen, but when they get there they had forgotten their money so they still got no food. Different story, same ending.
This one was so interesting because, unlike the book, they used the commutative property, seeing the arrangements as different situations, which the book did not do:
This group saw a lot of doubling going on in their arrangements when they chose 50 instead of the 100 in the book:
We came back together and talked about the patterns they saw.
While the math conversation was interesting and I can definitely see some great generalizations stemming from this work, tonight I am thinking more about the questions I am left with about small group work…
- Could a teacher work with primarily with one group, realistically, without continuously checking in on the others?
- How can we structure the work so everyone in the group is working on the recording at the same time and can see what is being written? We saw a lot of the journal or storyboard sitting in front of one student. Not that the others weren’t contributing, but they all couldn’t see what was being written. I think dry erase boards can work well here.
- What type of formative checkin can we do with each group that doesn’t add to an already growing pile of papers to be graded or give feedback?
- How do we control the noise? The students were not being purposely disruptive or off-task, they were just loud and began talking louder to hear one another.
- What does this look like at other grade levels?
- How can we keep this interesting for students to do every day while not making it a planning nightmare?
- How can we embed more student choice in the task?
More to come tomorrow when we tackle these tasks:
I saw a powerful video at a Jo Boaler workshop where middle school students worked in groups of 4 and they were all held accountable for making sure everyone could explain the work the group did. One student was asked to tell about the work and answer questions. No one else could help at that moment. The teacher would then walk away and leave it to the group to discover what their classmate needed to clear up the confusion. The whole group’s credit for the activity depended on everyone understanding. It’s a shift in the way we usually teach and it’s built on the belief that everyone is capable of high level math understanding. Something to think about as you plan.
I am very interested in this idea of communities of learning as it is something we are trying (here in NZ) to move our classroom programme to. We are trialing flexible groupings (mixed abilities) and have done a lot of work around Joy Boalers growth mindset and classroom norms and talk move to prepare for this collaborative approach. So can’t wait to hear how it is all going and how you are managing it. Good luck, it will be so rewarding.
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Thank you so much for this post! I teach for a virtual academy and I am incorporating guided math, and therefore, math groups in my classroom this year. Like you all, I’ve got so many questions as well as ideas about how to make this work not only in 4th but in a virtual setting! I enjoyed your reflection about the need to find a way for students to see each other’s work as they are working; we are also incorporating Google Classroom this year so I’m thinking I can use that as a platform for collaboration!