Sunday, February 28, 2016

Small Group Discussions

Hey everyone!

We just spent the end of the week and weekend cheering on one of our high school's wrestling teams--so much fun to see past students and parents along with some current ones, too. Apple Valley is well known for it's strong wrestling program, and my 7yr old hopes to be on the team some day :) We took a wrestling spectator hiatus for several years (when the boys were really little) but now that Sam is part of the AV club team, it makes it even more fun to cheer on the high school guys. One of my past students, Mark Hall, just became the first MN wrestler to win 6 state championships and 6 team championships. We look forward to cheering him on as a Penn State wrestler next year & seriously, keep an eye out for him in the Olympics...he WILL be there some day :) So fun to see kids shooting for the stars and reaching their goals!

Well, it's Sunday night. I have a lot of research papers to grade. And by a lot of research papers, I mean, like 140. We have two weeks until the end of the trimester, and I should have finished them by now...I know some of you feel my pain. I am a tried and true procrastinator, and it bites me in the butt. There have to be some memes out there re: grading procrastination..."You know you have papers to grade when you decide it's a good time to organize the toiletries closet instead."

So before I launch into grading, I thought I'd come back to write about two different conversation ideas I tried with the unit we are just finishing up--converstations and carousel conversations.

I hadn't heard of converstations until this year when we did them in both my district co-teaching cohort training and at a staff meeting. I love that it came up two unrelated times during professional development so I could see how it works in different settings.
The gist of converstations is that the class or group divides up into five or six groups. Everyone in the group gets a number. All groups discuss whatever it is you are discussing for however long you want them to discuss, and then when that wraps up, the #1s from each group get up and rotate clockwise. Their job is to tell the new group what their original group discussed, and when that is done, they stay on as a new group member for the next part of the discussion. When that second short discussion is done, the #2s from each group get up and rotate clockwise, fill in the new group (that has one member from their original group) like the time before. And on and on however long you'd like.

I used a modified version as it was a wrap up at the end of class. I had the student who was the oldest in the group be the traveller, and they had two things to share: what their original group had discussed re: the fate of one of the characters in the book they were reading, and they also had to bring a higher level question to pose to the new group. Then the new group discussed the question brought to them.

I have five classes of 7th grade English each day, and I tried things a little differently each time to see what worked and what didn't.

For the first class of the day, I just explained it verbally, because I decided on the drive to school to try this out! I have planning time right after the first class, so the rest of the classes had several Power Point visuals for direction

I played around with when to let them know who would be travelling. It seems to me that it is best to let them know BEFORE the discussion so the person travelling is ready. I thought it would make them all focus in more if I didn't let them know right away, but...with my kiddos, it didn't seem to add any urgency :)

I also noted as the day went along that in order for this to work, they really need clear directions, and that a little graphic organizer/quarter sheet for the traveler to jot some notes down as well as the question they are bringing would have helped. Most classes were ok, but by the end of the day, I had kids/groups who hadn't come up with a question and then didn't have one to pose to the new group. In that case, I had the group discuss the question they had come up with for their own traveler.

I was happy that I had at least tried this mode of conversation...I want to try it earlier in the year next year! Here is a fantastic video from Teacher Channel that explains it really well!

I just found this strategy from Teaching Channel, too...looks like a great one for engaging kids who are hesitant to join the conversation!

The other strategy I used with novel discussions in this unit (vs the traditional "discuss your record and responses from your notebooks, make a list of the main events from this section, make sure you touch on these questions if you haven't already, and jot down any questions your group has at this point") is a carousel discussion.

The students have been sitting with the same groupings (six groups of five to six kids)  the whole unit, so they are used to discussing the book with the same group. I had them start by spending 4-5 minutes discussing what they had for record and response work in their notebooks, but then instead of the group looking at a list of questions on a slip of paper, I wrote out one question per piece of poster board and had sticky notes on hand. The groups all had a different question at their table. They spent several minutes discussing and then jotted down their thoughts on one post-it, and added the post-it to the poster. When the groups were done, I had them rotate tables. Their task again was to discuss the question on the poster, look at what the previous group wrote, and then add their own thinking. By the time they had rotated through all the posters, they had had a chance to dig more deeply into each question as well as a chance to read what other groups were thinking.

Several reflections:
1) It worked well to have students who had been absent or who were behind continue to read/finish the book and their notebook work instead of joining the groups. I prefer to have them in the group discussions, but this seemed to work that day.
2) The kids really need to have the basics of group talk down--what it means to be an active listener and how to work effectively in a group. The classes did pretty well with this because we have spent time discussing it, but several groups didn't dig into the discussion very much and went to social talk after about two minutes. It helped me to see that I need to reiterate the importance of having their notebooks and novels with them when they discuss and that it's important and expected that they talk about the text and use text evidence. I'd usually talk about a group from a different class and several things I observed their group doing well to set up positive expectations.

The small group discussions led into planning time for a large class Socratic Seminar and then the final assessment. I'll take those on in a different post :)

Let me know if you have questions about how these activities went, if you have run anything similar, or if you have more ideas for changing up small group talk!

Have a great week & happy teaching!



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