Unruly fifth period

Brief excerpt of what happened in fifth period Math Lab today.

Me: <explaining about the importance of working together and that employers see teamwork as an important skill, which is why I am randomly assigning students into groups of four>

Students: <grumble grumble grumble>

After one or two minutes, students are finally getting to their seats, except for a few.

Me to Student A: Student B is waiting to sit down because you are in her seat. Would you please move to your seat?

Student A: No.

Me to Student A: Your team needs your cooperation, please move to your seat.

Student A: No.

Me to Student A: This isn’t a choice. Everyone has to sit in their assigned seat.

Student A: No.

While this is going on, Student C goes to my computer and messes up the seating chart so now no one knows where they are seated. I am so furious but have to control myself. I send Student C out of the room. More chaos ensues as I now have to make a new seating chart and everyone has to move again. It takes more than 10 minutes for students to get settled in their assigned seats.

Many students are upset at being moved from their friends and refuse to work with each other, a few openly criticize their team mates, saying things like “I don’t want to work with him, he’s boring.”

The thing that upsets me the most is that I can’t seem to win over a critical number of students to make the class run well, as I have been able to in other classes. Instead, the ones that were previously on task are being drawn off task by others. This is my most challenging class by far. Students in this class aren’t taking the tasks that I give them seriously, even though I’ve tried to think very hard about what to give them that would be fun, interesting, and mathematically meaningful. (Today I tried to use the Disc-Ness activity from Balanced Assessment in Mathematics.)

3 thoughts on “Unruly fifth period

  1. This class period sounds really tough. Reminds me of the student teaching of the students at Duke. Anti-participation from some students was the most challenging and sometimes demoralizing aspect of their student teaching.

    For me, your post raises interesting questions about how to group students. In high school the incentives to cooperate sometimes do not trump the discomfort students feel about being grouped without choice. Should groups be generally “mixed ability” or not? Who benefits from various groupings? I really don’t know the answer to these questions, but I have heard plenty of complaints from learners who are placed with others who work at a very different rate. Or have different levels of investment in the process/work. What does a random grouping accomplish? I am interested to hear more about what kinds of groupings are most successful.

    What have you learned about your students? What do they care about? What do they think is funny? What makes them mad? I wonder if you could group them by favorite food or something silly but still something that gives the group something in common with each other…

    I know there is never enough time, but I wonder what it would take for students to grow comfortable enough with each other to work well in randomly assigned groups. Would any kind of ice breaker be effective?

    Thank you again for sharing your experiences, good and bad, with us.

  2. The previous commenter mentioned several techniques that I use. I used to have students write down their faborte food, then line up in alpha order by favorite food, then split them into 4s that way. Or by letters in their name or height.
    When students sit with new groups, I’ll give them 2 min for everyone to introduce themselves and their favorite dessert or favorite tv show.
    I found that switching seats every 2-4 weeks helps switching seats seem like not the end of the world.
    This year I’m looking at celdt scores/ sped designation/ cst scores to create mixed ability groups. I

  3. Be careful with entering into power struggles… There’s not one correct way to deal with kids who are being obstinate, but I found that my best course of action for most CR mgmt issues involved me reciting a canned response that sounded something like this:

    (Said assertively but politely): In this classroom our bottom line is learning mathematics. Anything that takes us away from that bottom line is not okay. You need to choose right now if you are going to stay here or if you are going to go (or whatever consequence you deem is most appropriate). I know how smart you are and how much you can contribute, and so I really hope you make a choice to stay and participate in learning. I care about your learning and I would hate for you to miss out.

    The point: something short and direct is best. it’s been a year since I’ve had to say it and so i don’t have it on instant recall at the moment. BTW, have you thought through the consequences? If students choose to go, then where do they go? Do you have admin support if you make such a call? Don’t make empty threats or say something you can’t or won’t back up.

    Kids got the message quickly (and would even say it with me, and say ‘we know we know’), and quite frankly, they just didn’t have anything to argue with. I knew that by making the bottom line about learning mathematics then I would always be able quash the disagreement quickly and move on, hopefully with that student choosing to join back in. One more thing: students who lose a power struggle (in their eyes) may need a minutes to collect themselves before they spring back. Like they might choose to stay, be quiet for a minute, and then join back in like nothing has happened.

    ps: i always do random grouping with playing cards because I use CI, and I’m want to send a strong message to students that I have the same expectations for competence for all of my kids. Please don’t EVER try to group kids based on the “high-medium-low” kid thing. The research is bad, and plus it sends a very strong message that you see kids in that way (which is a message kids believe and figure out QUICKLY), as well as ignores the fact that ability is dynamic. Also, don’t get suckered into letting kids pick their groups. Even kids who are well trained in groupwork won’t get anything done. Random random random. In addition to icebreakers, “skillbuilders” help train kids in groupwork. There are some examples in the “Get it Together” book, and the tangram task ya’ll tried in the ROP class last year. Something that everyone has access to, is not necessarily mathematically intensive, and absolutely REQUIRES every person’s participation…

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