It costs you nothing to err on the side of care.
Not long ago, I noticed my son was uncharacteristically quiet. After some prodding, waiting, and long silences, he finally opened up. There was a big project due in science, he said, “and I don’t have a group.”
“What do you mean by ‘I don’t have a group’?”
“I was supposed to be in a group with Angelo, but he dropped me and went to be in a group with Gavin and Kento.”
“Can you join them? In their group?”
“No,” he said. There were restrictions. “The teacher said it had to be just two or three people in a group, no more. We can work alone, but we aren’t allowed to work on it at home, so working alone kind of stinks. And yesterday was the only day we could change groups.”
“Is there another group you can join?”
“No,” he said. All the groups were set. It was over and done: he had to work alone, and he had to pretend to like it.
For a parent, there isn’t much that is more upsetting than hearing your child has been dropped, abandoned, and left alone.
“Can you go to the teacher and point out that you’d like a partner but you don’t have one?”
“Mom.” My son shook his head. “He isn’t the kind of teacher who cares.”
My heart sank, but I knew he was right. I knew this teacher, and he wouldn’t care.
I understand the value of group work, and I understand the value in having students find groups, navigate the social minefield of peer relationships, and figure out how they work best and what learning environments work for them. What I don’t understand is not caring how it feels to be a kid doing those things.
Younger students tend to work well in many group situations, because they don’t let social complications weird it all up for them. A container of color-coded Popsicle sticks work quite nicely, thank you very much. As students get older, though, having them pick their own groups can cause anxiety and stress to the point where finding a group becomes more of a stressor than the actual learning or the task assigned. We can’t assume the students are easily, breezily navigating the complications of finding and integrating into their own groups.
Just because kids get older and taller and have deeper voices doesn’t mean they have this all figured out. They still need our help, and, above all, they need to know their teacher is the kind of teacher who cares.
This week we share ideas for strategic small groups. Plus more as always—enjoy!
Contributor, Choice Literacy
Jen Schwanke is a principal for the Dublin City School District in Dublin, Ohio. A graduate instructor in educational leadership, she has written frequently for literacy and educational leadership publications and blogs about her experiences in learning and leading at jenschwanke.com. Follow Jen on Twitter @Jenschwanke. Her book You’re the Principal! Now What? is available through ASCD.
Heather Fisher explains how viewing excerpts from the same video multiple times can help students in book clubs hone their conversation and reflection skills.
Tara Barnett and Kate Mills describe how they help teachers move from guided reading to strategy groups in the upper elementary grades.
Betsy Hubbard shares a protocol for moving young writers from conferences to student-led groups.
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That’s all for this week!