Grasping for Effective Grouping

Sometimes that blinding flash of the obvious takes a long time to get to me. For weeks I have been struggling with how I will meet the needs of all 22 of my technology students in a student centered, standards based environment. It’s a philosophy I embrace wholeheartedly on paper and that I have struggled to be able to put into practice in the classroom.

My students are working on a multi-step project that analyzes their media use and compares it to their “non-digital” life. It involves spreadsheets, charts, and a shared document. The kids are all over the place in terms of their progress and I have spent the last two weeks perfecting what I call the “Pinball Approach to Teaching” whereby I jump from kid to kid and answer the same question 15 times to 15 individuals. No amount of begging from me to “listen to me please!” to the whole group was effective. We all left the class frustrated, confused, and barely ahead of where we began.

Today I used a different but very simple technique. I used our grading software to sort my students out into the 3 categories of our rubric which essentially divides them into “Just getting started (or not started)”, “editting” and “done.” I made table groups in my room for each and put stickies on each desk with the names of who should sit there.

Students were a bit taken aback, thinking this was a behavioral strategy. Not at all, I explained. Rather, it was a way to concentrate my attention where it could be put to best use as each group was working with the same step of the process. No group was larger than 6 students.

It had some great effects. Kids in the groups helped each other with pieces that they understood. Kids in the groups listened to the explanations I gave and you could almost see the light bulbs going on. Some kids were a bit aghast to not be sitting with friends (especially those who are very social!) and became more motivated to get caught up.

I had two comments from students that validated this process. One, a struggling student who doesn’t yet  advocate for himself said that he had gotten more help in that period than he had the entire trimester. Another, a reluctant but social student, asked if I ‘d be re-evaluating the groups the next class since he had gotten so much work done.

BINGO! I wish I had thought of this about 8 months ago. By the time I retire I ought to be a pretty good teacher.


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