Monday, 9 February 2015

Ideas for group work in the high school classroom

Kia ora all! This blog post is a real train of thought, work in progress entry. I have a lot of ideas about using groups in my class and I'm sure this plan will be refined over the coming weeks. I really look forward to hearing your thoughts, suggestions and questions!

I have mentioned before that my department is invigorating our junior program and that these plans are ongoing. A key part of this change is that we are guided by four Kaupapa or themes throughout the year, one in each term. We are starting the year with Papatuanuku and I have explained to the students that we will be considering our texts through this lens.

I have also started the year with my desks in groups for the first time, having never had room before. And that's what this blog post is all about - how I am going to use these groups in the classroom.

Here is the plan:

- I will name the five groups of desks (six desks per group) after a local body of water or landmark: Ohiwa, Rangitaiki, Tarawera, etc. To be confirmed.
- As Trident is our iwi, I will refer to my classroom as a hapu and each group of desks would be a whanau (across classes, for example, there will be at least three groups of students who are "Ohiwa" across at least three different classes)
- each group, in each class, will decide upon an abstract noun that they will aspire to demonstrate. For example aroha, manaakitanga, perseverance... This idea comes from my husband's plan to integrate the qualities of a good teammate into his Sports in Education class.
- somehow, each group of desks will end up with a flag or sigil, a couple of abstract nouns (from the different groups in different classes) and most excitingly, a patron of the arts. Ideally the patron will be a New Zealand author, director, screenwriter, lyricist or actor.

I have two Year 9 classes and a Year 10 class so I'm not sure how to divvy up the research and decision making when it comes to the flags and patrons, but I'm excited about how these decisions can be part of my classroom teaching about visual and verbal texts as well as the context of New Zealand art and literature.

Some decisions I am yet to make are:

- will these groups be flexible? Might I have to jiggle students throughout the year, or is the point to work through any issues with each group by falling back on their core value, as well as my school's core values?
- how will I determine the groups? I will certainly not be splitting them into curriculum levels from lowest to highest. The next obvious choice is to spread each level of ability across each group of desks. Alternatively I could base my decision initially on personality, and subsequently on reshuffling if I notice a predominance of a certain curriculum level at one table. While one of my classes is technically 'streamed' the students do cover a range of two or three curriculum levels, the other two are definitely mixed ability due to their special interest nature (Great Barrier Island group and BYOD class).
- I am also keen to get my seniors to buy into this, but as my Level 1 class is tiny and my Level 2 class is strong willed and very 'cool' I may struggle. They may dismiss the whole thing as very primary school. One strategy might be to not even mention it to them and see if they react to the posters and values going up around the walls.

What do I hope to get out of this?

- accountability, enthusiasm, belonging
- bonding within each group
- I hope that awareness of the other groups who occupy your set of desks will encourage more responsibility as a citizen of the classroom: less graffiti, rubbish and gum under desks.
- More interest in wall displays and therefore other students' work
- behaviour management through positive peer pressure
- more opportunities for peer teaching
- an increase in student progress (hopefully this is the overarching reason why we do anything in the classroom!)

I will see how Term 1 goes and if these ideas are not enough on their own to achieve my goals I may look at introducing some form of inter or intra (or both) group competition. Thankfully we have a fantastic PB4L system of core value certificates and of 'coffee club' stamps that are a simple way to acknowledge and encourage positive behaviour and work ethics. I'm not big on competition in the classroom, but my boisterous junior boys may require that kind of motivation

As you can see I am very excited about how this will work. I'm already thinking about the future and whether I would keep the names the same across the years or whether I could branch out and use different kinds of philosophies, names of novels, international authors, past successful students, the options are limitless...

I would love to hear your ideas, suggestions and advice. Do you use groups in the classroom? Do they stay the same all year? What do kids like or not like about this approach?

Whāia te iti kahurangi ki te tūohu koe me he maunga teitei
Pursue excellence – should you stumble, let it be to a lofty mountain


Kate Hamilton said...

Sounding good! Will be very interesting to see how they take to it - designing their own flag? How come this is the first time you have had room for group seating??
I was privileged to be in some senior Drama classes today & watched them work (helped a little as I am to be their relief teacher :) ). It was magic seeing how the groups worked together, & I was able to understand how they had developed their comic theme. So playful, so outgoing. Hope you get some of these qualities with your juniors too.

Polly Hamilton said...

Thanks for your comment Kate! It's the first time as I've had some unnecessary furniture removed - just a little makes all the difference!
I'll be setting up the groups from next Monday so I'll keep everyone updated about how it goes.

Melanie van Ansem said...

That sounds amazing Polly! I'll be interested to see how it goes going forward.