Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Group Work: Be Predictably Unpredictable

By Angie Hodge

Group work. It’s the Hodge-IBL method. Even though I did not enjoy group work as a student until graduate school, it fits my teaching style. My classroom is social. We all learn together. We all learn from one another. With tables, whiteboards around the room, and a lot of chatter, we get math done.

April Halcomb asked a great question, however, in response to my last blog entry: “How do you make sure they [students] are on the right path when they are working together, and how do you make sure everyone is working together?”

This is, as I said, a great question. If I had the answer, I'd be rich. So I don't have it all figured out, but I can offer advice from experience. I’ve been using IBL group work since 2007, and I learn something new about it every year. Heck, I just learned something about it today.

Listen carefully. Thankfully, I have ears like an elephant and can hear a pin drop on the other side of the room. That’s one key to my success with group work. Even if you don’t have great hearing, make the students think you do. Keep your ears open at all times and randomly answer questions from across the room. Once you do this a couple of times, they will know you are listening.

Do the random walk. Move around the room in a pattern that is so random that the students won’t ever guess when you will be coming their way. I do go where there is a hand, if there is a question, but I also literally hop around from place to place. I eavesdrop, help out where needed, and walk away if I'm about to disclose too much.

Stop them if need be. I use my whistle to stop the class if it seems like most students are stuck or if we all need to come together for some reason. This is also done at random intervals.

Allow some chatter. I find that if you allow students some time off task, they will bond with one another and work together better. I don’t allow a lot of this and bring them back on task by asking them questions, but it’s okay if sometimes they tell a joke or two. After all, learning math should be fun.

Challenge them. Make the work easy enough that all students can start it, but hard enough that they need one another to finish it. Challenges and goals work wonders if your students are at all competitive. Knowing that they will need help from others to finish the work also encourages students to keep the random chatter to a minimum. Better make some headway while the necessary human resources are available!

Let some work alone. I often have one student per class who initially likes to work alone. I “sort of” let this slide (or at least I pretend to). I let him/her work alone, but I ask him/her to help another student if he/she gets the concept we are working on. I also have other students help the “loner” student if he/she looks stuck. I do, however, respect that some differentiated instruction is needed. I just nudge the group work and usually it pans out.

But…what if some groups just don’t click? What if students aren’t talking to each other? What if your random grouping leaves you with the blind leading the blind? What if?  Discuss. I will offer my two cents in my next blog entry.  


Stan Yoshinobu said...

Nice post! Group work management takes skill, and you describe a useful framework for using groups.

Unknown said...

One thing that I do with the group work is create a little incentive to help to help each other. If each student in a team achieves above a certain level then that team receives a bonus (I heard about this at Tim Kanold talk, but I don't think the idea was his.) This gives everyone a stake in other's success and creates responsibility to the others as well. It is a competition with themselves, and not a zero sum game. My students love it.

June Karonov said...

My teachers don't really encourage group work, which is unfortunate because I think that chatting with someone else about a problem is really helpful. I've been using MathCrunch lately for my homework and its actually taught me how to think better.