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Shaping the First Days of School

To ensure that the spirit and purpose of the collaborative classroom is clear from the onset of school, you will want to engage your students in a collaborative activity on the first day. In doing so, you can accomplish two important goals. First, students immediately understand the importance and value of working together, and secondly, students quickly move into their role as active participants.

During the first few days of class, it is extremely important that expectations and the “rules of the game” be defined. The best approach is to have the students work together in small groups to generate the guidelines for teamwork. 

The “Ten guidelines for students doing group work in mathematics,” by Anne E. Brown for the CLUME Project is a helpful guidepost for identifying the elements for successful group interactions. Brown developed these guidelines after viewing the video and audio tapes of more than a dozen group sessions of her students. This list reflects the apparent actions critical to the success or failure of the group. In summary, the guidelines state the following:

  1. Groups should be formed quickly and members of the group should sit together, facing each other, and get to work quickly. Members should call each other by first name. Members should not engage in “off-task” discussion. Everyone should be encouraged to participate.

  2. All instructions should be read aloud so that everyone is aware of the expectations of the assignment.

  3. Members of the group should listen to each other and not interrupt. Comments or questions should be acknowledged and responded to by other group members.

  4. Members of the group should not accept being confused. If a member of the group does not understand the information that is presented, this person should ask someone to paraphrase or rephrase what was said.

  5. Members of the group should ask for clarification if a word is used in a way that is confusing.

  6. The members of the group should work together on the same problem and check for agreement frequently.

  7. Members of the group should explain their reasoning by “thinking out loud” and ask others to do the same. This helps everyone to relate the information being presented to what they already know.

  8. Members of the group should monitor the group’s progress and be aware of time constraints so that all members meet the goals of the assignment.

  9. If the group gets stuck, the members of the group should review and summarize what they have done so far. The group can then ask questions to find errors or missing connections to help the work to proceed.

  10. Members of the group should engage in questioning, the engine that drives mathematical investigation.

Emergent Bilingual students and Special Populations:

As you reflect on the guidelines you have just read, your mind is likely already drifting towards how you will set up groups in your own classroom. You may have already begun considering how you will group your students who are identified as Gifted and Talented, emergent bilingual students, and/or who have a disability.  You may have even received students’ individual learning plans with individual student information. All of this information gets synthesized down to help you form your groups. It is important to note that grouping based on similar levels does not always yield the best results. For example, if you have 6 emergent bilingual students in your class and 4 are beginning and 2 are advanced learners, you might be tempted to put all your emergent bilingual students together, since you feel you could address their linguistic needs in one group. Carnegie Learning would encourage you to consider spreading out your emergent bilingual students so that they have the option to work, not only on their mathematical knowledge, but work with their English proficient peers. By grouping emergent bilingual students with English speaking peers and other emergent bilingual students it will allow them to engage at grade level content.  Similarly, if you have multiple students with disabilities, you may feel like it would be best to group them all together. Not all of your students with disabilities should be grouped together, but they should be intentionally placed to have opportunities to interact and converse with non-disabled peers.