Friday, December 18, 2015

Group Mania

I was talking to a teacher the other day who covered an ICT class. There was some group work activity going on. The kids were making quite a bit of noise and a supervisor walked in, brimming with pride. "There's a lot of learning going on in here," he declared, and went on his Merry Way. The covering teacher remarked to the other one, "Hey, nothing personal or anything, but it seems to me all the kids are just fooling around." The other teacher said, "Yeah, I know. There is nothing going on here."

That's one extreme of group mania. I'm not opposed to group work or anything, but I generally favor pair work. I teach language, and pairs get more of it in. For me, it's a bang for your buck kind of thing. I haven't done that much work with larger groups this year, but I decided to give it another go anyway a few days ago. It worked OK with my morning class, but my PM class is very small and quiet.

Charlotte Danielson would have given me few brownie points. I kind of broke them up geographically, you, you, and you, and waited to see what would happen. What happened was group one had a grand old time. I have one girl who sits in a corner and finds every facet of life hilarious. She is a joy to watch, because she exudes joy every moment. She transformed the entire group into replicas of herself. Even though they got the actual work done, it took a while because they couldn't stop laughing. Although they got the work done more slowly, they actually talked, and that was my secret goal for this activity.

My middle group was the worst. They were all quiet, and conspired to get the activity done in the worst way possible. Specifically, the worst way is that one person does the work, and everyone else copies it to get it the hell over with. There is no feeling whatsoever for the importance of the project, just a desire to get it the hell out of the way. Whatever work product ensued is Good Enough, and therefore the teacher will likely not scream at you, and hopefully not inconvenience you in any way whatsoever.

My third group was marginally better. Though it had one member who was borderline social, in English no less, some other members had little idea what they were doing. I explained it, they got it, and they did it, but they weren't precisely feeling the love.

Next time I do a group activity in that class I will break up the first group and have each of them lead another. I fear, though, that I will lose the magic I saw the other day and simply replicate the cold efficiency of my last group. Midway through that class I heard a heated discussion in the hallway. I  peered out and saw a colleague lecturing some kid. Evidently, the teacher had told the kid repeatedly to stop talking and the kid persisted in talking anyway. I felt envious.

The only time I really got a rise out of my entire group was when I explained to them, in highly exaggerated frustration, that teachers all over the building were asking kids to shut up, and that I was the only teacher in the building who had to actually beg people to talk. They all found that hilarious. I am quite fond of this class, for reasons I can't precisely explain.

But for me, it's a lot easier to teach my morning class, the one with multiple kids who are almost as crazy as I am.
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