June 22, 2016

by Carolyn Hollowell

When I was visiting Darcie, a middle school teacher from Alberta, last month.  She found herself dealing with a particular student who struggled with discipline problems all through the year. While we she was working with her small group, she heard the very same student perform very well during a group activity. Seizing the moment, she encouraged her for her brilliance. I noticed the impact that encouragement made on the student.  It was almost as big as the grin on her face. With Darcie's support, she seemed more confident in herself and more productive that day. 

Darcie’s story is moving and inspiring at the same time. It brings us back to our childhood and reminds us of the influence teachers can have on the lives and personalities of their students. When was the last time someone gave you a chance to begin again despite poor performance? When was the last time someone provided you the encouragement, the incentive to go out and shine? 

As you recall those moments, stop to consider the positive and negative impact group activities can have on students.  When conducting small-group learning sessions, your struggling students can feel more disconnected to you and the material.  In turn, they can fall farther behind or act out more significantly. If you, divide students into groups and don't plan for how you will keep engaged with all students the learning will be impacted. If you want to create these inspiring moments, you need to learn how to build successful small-group learning activities. Darcie is amazing at creating group learning that is both rewarding for her as well as the students.  

Here are Darcies Top 4 Tips

1.  Define a Goal
Her first step to conducting a successful group activity is to have an end goal in mind. It shouldn’t be too vague, like “improving student performance.” It should be specific and achievable. For instance, if you want your students to demonstrate they understand how to complete the science experiment, that’s an achievable goal. Once you have a direction to go, you can figure out a way to get there.

2.  Identify the Right Activity
Step two - you need to choose the right kind of activity and group structure to help you reach the goal. Consider some of the following when starting out:
•    Study groups to revise and prepare for exams
•    Laboratory teams to conduct experiments and share observations for science
•    Enactment groups to perform a scene from the play for an ELA lesson.

3.  Revise, Reassess, Restructure
Once the students are comfortable with the small-group structures and arrangements, shake things up. Pair students with new students to familiarize them with each other. Continually revise the learning group structures to identify the students with exceptional communication skills or a flair for leadership. Introduce new activities into the mix to find the strengths and weaknesses of individual students.

4.  Stay Connected, But Not Intrusive
The most difficult step, when it comes to successful small-group learning activities is to continue to stay connected with all the students.  With the Lightspeed Flexcat audio system, you can keep track of what the students are thinking in real time. From anywhere in the room or outside the room; you can encourage, correct, motivate, discuss and coach them to success. Your role as a guide will determine the direction the group activity will take and, more importantly, the future of your students.

You might also be interested in:
6 Keys to Successful Classroom Transitions
By Malissa Etie
Hearing is Believing
By Dale Mann Ph.D.

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