Saturday, November 15, 2014

Collaboration is Key

This morning it all started with a simple yet elegant infographic

Teamwork, collaboration, goal-setting.  All of these ideas are right up my alley!  I love trying to keep directions simple for students because it really makes ideas cement in - ideas that are cross-curricular and transcend all subject areas.  This means when your Geometry teacher tells you that your groups need to turn into teams, she isn't kidding.

But I really do believe my students think I'm blowing hot air.  The intelligence of 1 dominates the groups, the students who won't do things normally are still not doing anything, this frustrates the students who care about their grades and is causing a lot of friction.  I wish I could do something about student X who is absent so often that they never know what is going on when they come back.  Or student Y who even when "present" is not fully present.  Attendance is such a key factor in achievement that I think that alone is impacting the way the groups work.

Teachers say group work for the sake of group work is not good.  Tasks need to be enriching, engaging, etc.  But when I try to switch from group work to, say, whole-class instruction - the ship sinks.  I do not believe that students listen to me.  Mind you, exit tickets say otherwise.  Ok, when I *do* an exit ticket it indicates that students understand what I am saying.  But during the process of whole-class instruction/guidance there are students who are not paying attention, fiddling with their phones, putting their heads down, etc.

Best Learning Position Ever... 
I know math is not everyone's bag but... c'mon!  Putting your head down?  I'm not *that* boring.  Or am I?  I have been wrestling with this idea for a while now really.  I'd say 95% of my students are making progress on learning goals, paying attention, engaging themselves with content, asking really good questions, participating actively, even *asking* when we will do 4 corners or other similar activities again - and then there are 5% who really don't care.  They are not in this class because they want to be there, they don't want to put forth effort into something that doesn't matter to them, their mind/brain is completely somewhere else, they have 1 or 2 jobs/activities that dominate their time and they are tired and no amount of interesting mathematical facts/applications or really funny jokes (no really, my jokes *are* hilarious) or gimmicks or anything will hold their attention.

So in a load of about 160 students maybe 8 total across all of the classes don't seem to get it or even *want* to get with the program.  Why do I let it sour the pot so much?  Why can't I just let it go and be happy with all of the students who are responsive to what I *am* doing?

Collaboration *is* important and even if they don't see it now I think students are starting to get the hang of working together.  Maybe, just maybe someday they will transfer these skills to other classes.  Maybe they will use these ideas as adults.  Maybe they will see the benefit some day and come back and caution the other students to pay attention because they wish they did and maybe some day that will resonate with my lone 5% and then I can reach 100%.  Maybe someday I will be happy with 95% and develop confidence in my practices.

Ok, enough ranting - now to problem solve.  So, what makes the group work effective?  I can't find but do recall someone somewhere saying something about turning groups into teams (non-educational "how to" found here).  I do have a little acronym that helps orient students to the basic fundamentals of what groups do, but maybe this isn't enough.

  • Get Along 
  • Respect Others 
  • On Task Behavior 
  • Use Quiet Voices 
  • Participate 
  • Stay with your group 

In September I was fortunate enough to go to the UC Davis Math Project.  At this first session for the year we discussed group/team work and providing roles for students.  Something as simple as roles in a group seems superficial - but stick with me for a little bit here.

The presenter, who works for CPM, recommended that students not necessarily have to do that specific thing but be in charge of making sure that specific thing gets done.  I don't personally use CPM materials - although I am sure they are good and have heard fantastic things about them.  But from what I have heard they are very group/team based and everything she did say made a lot of sense.

So the recommended roles she put into place were:

  • Resource Manager 
  • Task Manager 
  • Facilitator 
  • Reporter/Recorder 

She did a really cool thing with task cards that helped remind students of what their main role was, some questions to ask themselves throughout the task and also a color-phrased mnemonic device to help them remember to work towards the goals of their work.

After a quick Google search about the whole idea of turning groups into teams I came across this article from Harvard about what does make a group into a team.  They say: "A team is a group of people who do collective work and are mutually committed to a common team purpose and challenging goals related to that purpose." 

Common purpose and challenging goals.  Maybe I haven't driven home the idea that they are working together for the common purpose of solving problems, making progress and developing understanding.  I think those are pretty challenging goals, if I do say so myself.  I always remind my class that there is 1 of me and 30-something of them.  They need to learn how to communicate with each other so that they can rely on each other for help.  But maybe I haven't done enough to help them mold their sense of purpose and duty to each other?

I am inspired by this collaborative chart from Maureen Devlin that outlines a good way for students to keep track of their collaborations.  My students maybe need a little more frequent check-ins so hopefully I find time today (between all of the wonderful grading I have to do!) in order to make a half-sheet sized version with a few less layers.  Maybe have students zero in on a few targets every once in a while until they feel confident with those and then move on to other targets.

I always say progress is success and I truly believe that.  Bite-sized pieces will hopefully get them addicted to the elation you feel when you know that you've got it and until then I hope they all show up to get the material that they need in order to make their progress.

I won't hold my breath, but I'll just keep taking deep breaths in hopes they all show up to learn.  Until then, I'll just keep Twittering (and blogging!) on.


Vanes63 said...

I also forgot to link to a few other "turn groups into team" resources I thought might come in handy later.

I am also interested in really looking deeply into the image in the last link.

Maureen Devlin said...

Hi Vanessa, I think your post is terrific. One reason your students probably don't have great collaboration skills or interest is the fact that throughout schools we probably don't give apt collaboration the time and attention it needs both from a professional level and student learning level. In a sense, they haven't worked their "collaboration muscle" so they don't see the worth or strength of it.

I like your ideas about how to build collaboration, and guess what, I may use the cards too. I like the way you described the cards and their use.

As for your 5% that don't attend, they really need a different structure for learning-smaller groups, a different day, more counseling perhaps--we all worry about these students, and we all know that they need something different than what a typical classroom can offer. That's a community and whole school challenge to solve.

I hope you'll keep sharing as you grow this aspect of your practice. Your words will strengthen my words tomorrow as we continue last Friday's collaborative task. Have a great day!