Most of the activities in this review unit involve group work, and obviously, there are many ways to do this. Often in class I allow students to choose their own partners, and frequently this works really well as students tend to work with people they are comfortable with. Sometimes though, you end up with a group of three who are all stuck, and they spend a lot of time off task because they are not sure how to proceed. Since I had a limited amount of time to get through the review material, I opted to create groups for the students so each group had varying ability levels.
I sorted the students by their year long grade and made five groups (class of 25). I placed one of the top 5 students in each group to be the “leader.” Then I looked at the next five students and placed one in each group, and so forth. Then I looked at the bottom 5 students and placed them in the group where I thought they would be able to work best collaboratively. I had to tweak it a bit to ensure weak students had someone who was stronger AND would be someone they would feel comfortable enough with to ask and receive help. I also looked for possible conflicts, but for the most part, each group had a strong leader who could support others, and who would not be afraid to ask me for help if they needed it.
Before students got into their groups I role modeled how it feels to have someone say, “oh GREAT. Mary Williams is in my group – she is such a PAIN to work with,” and how that would hurt my feelings. Then the old, “your group is going to be GREAT because YOU are in it!” Yeah they’ve heard that before, but it warrants repeating.
I called out group member names one group at a time, and for the most part students found their group members without complaining. We rearranged the desks and this became the permanent arrangement for the next two weeks. I did tell students the groups were thoughtfully crafted based on their strength in math. I asked those who are super talented in math to realize some group members will need support. I reminded those who are not super talented in math YET that it is up to them to ASK for help, and then be willing to listen to that support.
This grouping strategy worked really well! I especially like the “Fish in the Reef” activity where all students have to be prepared to explain their group’s answer. The conversations that happen, and listening to students verbalize their thinking…it makes me realize I need to incorporate this element much more frequently.