I’m in the process of reading a paper Restructuring the Classroom: Conditions for Productive Small Groups (1992) by Elizabeth G. Cohen (click on the green text to go directly to the external link) because I have been questioning the effectiveness of group work during Inquiry. Although I still have much to read on this topic, I have began to make changes from what I have l learned so far. I am also consistently trying to improve my practice and understanding of the reflective learner.
I began questioning the usefulness of self reflecting on the quality of your own participation during or after a task. Wouldn’t it be more powerful to begin a task with a plan on how you were going to participate? By having a clear purpose and a particular mind set at the beginning, wouldn’t that then shape your achievement?
I’ve taken the Participation Pie, often completed during or after a group work task, Inside/Outside Circles and Teacher Conferencing to now use as reflective planning tools at four junctures within an Inquiry. (Please feel free to click on the green words Participation Pie and Inside/Outside Circles to follow the link to our other posts that explain these tools).
1. Being reflective using Inside/Outside Circles
After Tuning In, I use Inside/Outside Circles to ask students to think about and discuss what they could offer a group but also at the same time look for influence/input by other individuals which they themselves would benefit from. After this, individuals can then make informed decisions about how to group together in the context of the inquiry ahead. The purpose of this is to create awareness so as to make an informed choice when choosing a group. During this phase, students use informal language and vocabulary of their own although you could use the formal terms of the PYP Attitudes and Skills.
Students choose PYP Attitudes and Skills that would be appropriate to the context of the Inquiry ahead and complete one Participation Pie Plan as a group. The purpose of this is for individuals to plan for their participation in context with those they will be working with. This promotes individual responsibility and healthy group interdependence.
3. Being reflective using feedback via Teacher Conferencing
In effect each group has chosen their own criteria for assessment, as each member has identified which individual skills and attitudes will collectively benefit their group’s learning. These criteria have also been selected within the context of the Inquiry, the unique combination of their peers they are working with and their ever evolving understandings. I am able to observe and provide feedback based on their self selected criteria underneath the set of attitudes and skills identified as essential by the IB.
Reflecting on content and having the opportunity to reshape, revise, remold their understanding of the central idea is equally important as learning to work effectively in groups. Conferencing with each group during the Finding Out stage of Inquiry (Kath Murdock) allowed me to pose further questions, ask for the evidence they researched that supported their opinions/ideas/thoughts, question their explanations, applaud their thinking skills, listen to their explanations as well as provide feedback on their use of social skills.
Conferencing was especially rewarding. Students had had a chance to work out a deeper understanding of their central idea themselves and check their accuracy using their own research in a safe unthreatening way within group work which gave them repeated opportunities to remold their ideas/thoughts/opinions.
For true group work to occur then there must be one presentation which cannot be done individually and then sequenced or combined as a final product. First of all the group needs to choose a format that best demonstrates their learning (i.e. their developing understanding of the Central Idea). Then students need to go back to the PYP Attitudes and Skills to choose those which would be now appropriate to the context of the presentation ahead. This plan must demonstrate that it will foster cooperation and interdependence.
Being a Reflective Practitioner
Until I had taken a close look at group work, being reflective, skills, attitudes and began questioning my assumptions and practice, I hadn’t paid attention to the importance of the ever changing conditions that effect dynamics and therefore learning. In other words, choosing criteria without careful thought and promoting individual responsibility within a group context would not address the unique needs of any given situation. I need to use tools that will help students consciously create mini-plans for positive interdependent group work with a singular presentation outcome that allows for the dynamics and conditions at each phase of an inquiry while maximizing independence especially in choice and responsibility.