There are a variety of activities during our literacy block, including two rotations of small group work. Each group works on a task related to our literacy focus and/or content study. At this time, all of my students are working in small groups throughout the room (including a group sitting on bean bags on the floor) while I am working with a group of six or seven learners on a specific task or skill at another table (or on the floor... Yikes!) For example, our first rotation on a Monday in my class looks like this...
Even with eyes in the back of my head, I could not see what is happening in each small group. So, as the year progresses, I introduce the concept of Group Leaders. For each rotation, each small group has a Group Leader and they wear a Group Leader tag so that I can see from across the room who is "in charge" in each group. In September, we created a chart together detailing what effective group work would look like. I took these ideas and translated them into a rating sheet. I explain to the students that I need to count on them to keep things running smoothly in our classroom while I work with small groups, and that the scoring sheets help us keep track of how we are doing. I bought some small clipboards at the beginning of the school year and the group scoring pages fit perfectly on them!
Each Center has a box with materials and a set of directions. The group leader has the task of explaining the activity and distributing the materials. During group time, only the group leader can be out of his/her seat, whether it is to ask for help, to get materials, or to solve any problem that arises. The group leader also has the responsibility to encourage discussions or to limit them, and to encourage polite interactions among group members. Sixth graders will do anything protect their buddies, so it can be a challenge to get honest accounts about their success during group time. In a classroom with a well-established sense of community, this is rarely a problem. In all honesty, we have had a few stumbles along the way. We have had a lot of discussions about everyone having a chance to learn together--and how much I need their help to make this happen! This is a chance for many students to develop their leadership skills--and they have a tag to allow them feel comfortable doing so.
After each rotation, we take two minutes for "Call Outs. Group Leaders stand and share their score for the group on a scale of 1 to 5. It's always fun to wait for the day, usually in October, when students figure out they can use decimals to score their group's performance. Eventually, more "precise" scores are reported, such as as 4.5 or 4.99. Group Leaders do not use individual names, instead reporting, "Some members were chatting" or "We didn't finish the assignment." If there was a specific problem, students are encouraged to leave me a note or talk to me at another time. And, completed group pages are turned in to the finished Work basket so I occasionally find little notes or comments to consider.
When they share out, they use a format that sounds something like this: "Reporting for Group 4... Our group earned a 4.9. Our task was working on Nonfiction Notes. We were all on task and everyone finished the assignment, but there was a little bit of chatting towards the end." Group members rotate daily, so everyone gets a chance to lead and to speak. Lots of skills are practiced in the context of this little two-minute-block-of-time. Further, their comments also provide suggestions and ideas to help me adjust or modify their Center activities.
Sometimes groups are excused to recess according to their scores, so there is some built-in motivation to stay on task, to participate in discussions and to complete their work.
If you'd like to download a copy of the group scoring sheet, click on the picture above. If I uploaded it correctly, you should be able to revise it for your own small group work. And if you want the sweet font that is pictured on my recording sheets, you can go to HelloLiteracy and download it (Hello Millionaire) there from Jen Jones.
What other suggestions do you have to support successful group work? What keeps things running smoothly in your classroom. I'd love to hear your ideas too!
Wishing you a good week ahead...