You know, sometimes, as a teacher, you have this fun idea and you just want to try it out and see if it will work? Well, this was one of those ideas. Sometimes, it doesn’t come with a cute worksheet or anything, We just use what we have, make sure that the kids are engaged in solid content and GO FOR IT. I’ve hesitated on writing this post, because I wondered if it would be okay without any bells and whistles attached, but I’m a largely no-frills kind of teacher, and I think that some great ideas could be shared if we all just decided to post things that were great ideas versus all prettied up all the time.
I am a big believer in activities that allow my students to grow together through dialog, discussion and proper partnering. This fall, I tried this idea with my students and I look forward to trying it again with another topic in the future. I found that my students really enjoyed working collaboratively and it helped to deepen their understanding of the content to work together in this way.
The first step to having students work in a high engagement activity is
1.) Building up student schema with the proper resources.
I do this with lots of mentor texts, videos, audio recordings, songs, poems, magazines…whatever I can get my hands on to give the students context. The more the better! A truly high engagement activity requires structure and independence. When my students are not able to be independent, typically it’s because I didnt’ give them enough schema to be able to complete the task without a high level of engagement from me.
2.) Partner students based on more than academics.
This is a key component to getting a successfully independent collaborative activity. I prefer to pair students based on personality, to be honest. I like to put groups together based on whether or not they will be comfortable asking for help and taking suggestions.
3.) Share your expectations for success and create a simple rubric for the collaboration AND for the academic component.
It’s important for the students to know that you are not only evaluating them on the academic components: ideas, conventions, factual accuracy and independence. You are also looking for students who excel in: problem solving, sharing ideas, supporting your teammate and staying engaged. For this particular assignment, students were to retell the story of the Pilgrims from England to the first Thanksgiving. I gave each group a template to trace the illustration ‘bubble’ with. We discussed the important elements as a class and decided what four images we would recreate for the timeline. After this, I just did a whole lot of watching…which is my favorite part! 🙂 I’m someone who appreciates positive verbal affirmation, so, I get to do that while I am watching the engagement and giving the kids specific verbal feedback on things that I enjoyed seeing.
We did things in parts…for example…the first day, after we discussed the rubrics and rules, they illustrated. The next day, we did a draft of the sentences that would accompany the picture. The next day, I had the students work together to peer edit the sentences that they wrote. If you’re interested in how to work with students on this, I have a blog post you can see HERE. After the peer editing stage, I checked it over and helped a few students extend their thinking. They were given final draft strips and two additional days to work in their groups to complete the strips and practice their presentations for their final grade.
4.) Model proper presentation style so that students learn how to share their thinking with their classmates for their culminating activity.
I took the kids outside and attached their projects to a fence around the playground. I had them practice sharing their presentations with their group a little bit away from them so that they could work on amplifying their voices. I tell ya…they can holler when they are on the playground…let them have to give a speech and that same volume is gone. 🙁 So, playground practice it was! 🙂 Each student had to share the section that they did and read their thinking.
I hope you enjoyed this idea and will try it with your own learners! This was a lot of fun, and a great way to get my students, up, moving, and chatting about content, while learning to listen to and work with others.