Saturday, April 25, 2015

Small Group Research

Even though it's been a while since I have blogged, it's never been far from my mind. As an educator, it can be difficult to reflect through writing. I'm just so wiped out at the end of the day, it can be tough to write something coherent! However, if I want to be a better teacher, I need to do the things I want my students to do: write thoughtfully. I always tell them that writing will help them think things through; I should be doing it, too.

I serendipitously tried something I have never truly tried before this year: small group research. It started because a second grade teacher and I were having a hard time finding common time for all her students. Many have to leave the classroom at various times of the day for various services. So, we decided to do research in small groups of 5 students, and scheduled research times around the availability of the students. I appreciate the classroom teacher's flexibility in making this work. She picked the time that was best for students to be out of the room and come to library. We studied how the geography of a place affects how people live. We studied farms, fishing villages, mining towns, small towns, and cities. Students came to the library in their groups for about 30 minutes at a time, and we read and filled in a note-taking organizer together.

It was amazing. I really saw exactly what students struggled with up close. With some groups, we worked on note-taking, and other groups worked on identifying the most important information in a particular section. The students benefited from having direct instruction at their exact point of need. For some, the focused discussion was the key to their understanding the content. When you are working with an entire class of students, it is easy to just assume you know which students are "getting it" and which are not. Those kids who seem to be working independently and moving forward don't always get the attention they need because you are using a triage model to help those that need it most. Working with small groups taught me that even the brightest kids have misconceptions. When working with small groups, you don't need to triage: each student is equally important.

There was only one drawback that I experienced working this way. It can take a long time to get through all the groups. Add in other classes and other projects, and it can be difficult to keep momentum flowing on a personal level. Truthfully, though, the students are so excited about it, that it makes it all worthwhile.

As a point of interest, after each group completed their organizer, we discussed what they felt the most important aspects of their communities were. Students picked five things to share with their class and we made a video. It wasn't a huge production, and we worked on the wording together, but that's ok; that wasn't our focus for this project. They loved making the videos and sharing them with their classmates. Huge success.

I have since given this a try with first grade, as well, and it has been equally successful. This has been game-changer for me.

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