Monday, July 15, 2013

Minds on Math Chapter 4 - Community

I have, for the last few years, attempted collaborative groups in my classroom.  What typically happens is that the groups work for the first semester, but the students come back from the holiday break and are different creatures (I'm not sure how two weeks does that to them!), but when they come back, I have a hard time being patient with them in groups.  Inevitably, my class ends up in rows shortly after returning from the break.

This chapter on community was important for me in a couple of ways.  First, it reinforced what I believe to be true, students learn better in collaborative community groups.  One of the activities that I start out the year helps students see this.  I have the students list all of the Major League Baseball teams that they can think of.  I give them about 30 seconds to complete this.  Of course, no one ever gets them all.  Then I let them confer with their groupmates and allow them to combine their lists.  What they realize is that they are better as a group than any individual was on his or her own.

Second, I took away from this chapter that perhaps my groups were not working as I would have liked because I wasn't intentional enough at the beginning of the year.  Unfortunately, I cannot wave a magic wand and wish perfect groups upon my students!  Building a community not only takes time, but it takes continual reinforcement of group goals and norms.  Building a community requires work:  reinforcing those things that are going well and correcting those things that need improvement.  

One of the suggestions in this chapter that I really liked and would like to incorporate this year is that of individual preparation time.  Wendy Ward Hoffer writes, "learners often succeed best in community endeavors when they have chances to read, write, and think alone for at leas a few minutes before engaging with others."  I often assign tasks and let the groups dive right in.  Ward Hoffer's statement about preparation time makes me wonder how much better my groups might have been if I had given my students this time to think before beginning.  I think this especially helpful for at-risk and special needs students because it gives them a chance to form their own ideas (something I don't think they get a chance to do when groups start immediately because their voices are overshadowed by stronger students).

I'm off to find community-building activities for my first week of school.

For the kids,

1 comment:

  1. I agree with you Melanie that we must be really intentional in setting up our collaborative groups this year. Students really need to be informed of our expectations and we really need to model for them what we expect to see when they work in groups. I can't wait to hear from everyone how this is working once school starts.


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