Another noteworthy thing happened today. Today was the first day that I began weaving ideas from complex instruction into my class. I’m thrilled at how well it went.
Up to now, I’ve had students sitting in groups of 4 and I’ve told them to “work together” but I never gave explicit instruction on how to do this. Today, I began telling them why working in teams is important and how to do it. The task for each group was to solve a word problem using the guess and check method, record their guesses in a table, then present their answer to the entire class.
I was a bit concerned at first because I rearranged students into new groups. They had previously been sitting with their friends so they were now separated and did not know their teammates. Also, I wasn’t sure how well they would take to the long set of instructions that I had to give them.
I explained that to get a job and be a productive member of society one has to learn how to work well with others. I explained that each group of three students would work together to solve a problem. They would have to do that while playing one of three roles: recorder, reporter or resource manager. The recorder was responsible for making a written record of the work (the table with the guess and check numbers), the reporter was responsible for telling the rest of the class how the group came up with an answer, and the resource manager was responsible for getting supplies (calculators and textbooks) for the group.
I finished my instructions, then students self-selected their roles. (I’ll experiment next time with randomly assigning roles, but since one of the roles involved talking in class, I didn’t want to force students to do it.) When I gave the signal to start on the task, the students jumped into action. It was amazing. Every group was able to complete the task and came up with a beautiful solution to their problem.
Of course, there were some behavioral and status problems. Two students in a clique of three who were now separated did not want to participate. One boy told me he didn’t want to work. He put his head on the table. The other told me he didn’t want to work and was more defiant. I explained that their participation was crucial to the success of their team and that they had to participate or go to the office. I told them that I would come back in a few minutes and by then I wanted to see that they had selected one of the roles in their group.
Both boys were clearly causing problems for their group. One girl told the defiant boy something like “You don’t want to be on this group and if you don’t help us we don’t want you on the group either.” It was so hard for me to not get angry, but I did my best. Somehow, after more coaxing both boys participated somewhat. One boy reported that he contributed the correct answer for his group, and I congratulated him on that.
At the end of class, I made sure to give strong positive feedback for their display of excellent groupwork skills. I am definitely going to use more complex instruction in my classes and hone my complex instruction skills.
Two final quick notes: (1) For some reason there were only 15 students in class today. I know teachers are always wanting to reduce class size, so I won’t say this too loudly: That was almost too few students for the complex instruction style class. There might have been even more lively discussions at the tables if there were more voices. Question is, how will this work in my class of 36?
(2) The two boys who didn’t want to participate were part of a clique of three boys who have been very rowdy so far. After rearranging the students, the third boy was on the other side of the room and he was totally engaged. It was the highlight of my day to see him so successful. He was the one I mentioned at the end of my other blog post from today. I’ll be very curious to see how the three boys interact with each other again. The two were definitely making fun of the third for being so engaged in the math, but I’m not sure he heard them from where he was sitting.