Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Day 30: How We Group

There is a ton of debate about how to effectively group students.  At the start of every year, I group students alphabetically because I don't know them.  It's the easiest way for me to learn their names and to get a basic idea of who they work well with.

For intents and purposes, this is a random grouping.  I don't put the kids together based on personality because I don't know them.  I don't put them together based on ability because I don't know it.

I don't put them together based on clothing style because...that's not a thing.

I would prefer to group them by fictional dance-gang affiliation, but the school says that has to be saved for gym class.
If you do a google image search for "sharks with human teeth" you will NOT be disappointed

After the first couple of weeks, I get a pretty good idea for who can and who can't work together, either because they don't get along, or they get along too well.

But beyond "these two should not be together" I really struggle with how to set up my groups.  Many of my colleagues advocate for random groupings and I see a real advantage to that.  I have done the groups where I pick names out of a hat, then adjust based on personality, but I don't love it.

At the suggestion of our literacy coach, whose opinion I greatly trust and judgement I deeply value, put together a list of the students based on Lexile levels.  Her suggestion was that we organize groups this way, grouping students of different, but relatively close ability together.  The theory behind this is that teacher attention, which is already spread thin, could be focused on a group of struggling students.

The group of struggling students could be given a modified assignment.

By having their ability levels be close, they would be able to work together and achieve more than if they were with a higher lever group and being left behind.

I would like to have my higher level students help out those who are struggling, but in the 8 years where I have had my own classroom, I haven't seen this happen more than a handful of times.

So I tried it this way.

I'm not completely sold, but I will say that day one of this went relatively well.  There were no cross-room conversations.  Students worked well in their groups, helping each other along.  At no point did I see one or two students spacing out while the rest did the work.  The kids worked.

So did I...

I spent the period running from group to group, clarifying questions that they had clearly discussed together beforehand.  I found myself, more than answering questions, settling disputes.

"Aren't we supposed to do it this way?"
"Tell me why you think that."

More often than not, I was able to walk away without saying anything.

Students who had been stuck in previous assignments were working well.  They were still struggling, but at least this time it was a group struggle and they didn't give up.

I know that there are many arguments against grouping by aptitude or ability and it makes me nervous to do so, but at the same time, we are expected to modify and differentiate our assignments for learners of different needs.  I don't know how to square both of these concepts.

I'll stick with these groups until they stop working, or until I see students falling behind as a result.

In geometry, there a bit of complaining about the groups, but I gave them a difficult problem and they got to work.

I miss drawing...
Their assignment: Find a way around the city, back to the start that covers all bridges only once.  If it's impossible, explain why.

I gave them 6 minutes.  At 35, they were still working VERY well.

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