Facilitating Group Work

Every day of my residency year, my mentor teacher and I split students into three groups, one with my mentor, one with me, and one working on a computer program. A few months into my first year of teaching, my principal told me I needed to incorporate Guided Math Groups into my class. I needed to split my students into three groups once again, but this time…no mentor teacher and no computers. Initially, I was nervous and thought the groups would be a disaster.

I first introduced Guided Math Groups by explaining to students what I wanted the time to look like: Be on task, be quiet or silent, finish your work, and transition quickly and silently. These are quick and  easy rules, but are also quick and easy to break, so I went a little deeper with my students.

I connected each of the four rules to a core value of our school. Staying on task shows me you have integrity. You show respect to others by remaining quiet or silent so other students can focus. You demonstrate fortitude when you finish your work. We did not have a lot of time, so take responsibility for your learning by transitioning to your group perfectly and getting started immediately. At the end of each class, we reviewed whether or not each group met the four expectations by demonstrating the core values and I awarded points accordingly. The group with the most points at the end of the week won. Furthermore, at the end of class, students had the opportunity to publicly praise members of their group who did an exceptional job that day.

After a couple weeks of making the decision of whether each group met the criteria, I began asking the group to decide whether or not they earned the point. Now students had ownership over Guided Math Groups. The students ensured their group met the expectation by asking themselves questions like:

  • Are we on task?
  • Are we at an appropriate noise level?
  • Am I transitioning well?
  • Is everyone in the group finishing their work? If not, how can we help each other?

Guided Math Groups were not a disaster; in fact, they are my favorite part of class. It is a time for me to differentiate for individual student needs and review previously-learned concepts. It is a time when students work hard and work together. It is a time when I get to see students step up as leaders, self-reflect and learn to call out the good in others and themselves.  

– Joshua Sloan