Thursday, April 26, 2007

Cooperative Learning in the Classroom

I started a new job this week and whilst it is a teacher librarian position I do have a Year 7 English class. We have four periods a week and have met twice already. I was very keen to try my newfound cooperative learning strategies in this microcosm, so how did it go?

Firstly, I assumed the room would be a problem and it truly is. Three long rows of desks facing a whiteboard. The room apparently doubles as a storeroom for another subject area, so the perimeters are clogged with piles of books and papers. There's a lecturn and various other objects inconveniently placed. The teacher whilst standing out in front of the class has a beautiful view of Sydney Harbour. Ahhh! But the kids are almost in shade. There is a digital projector and screen on one of the side walls. So not all bad.

I worked hard during the first lesson on the signal for quiet. I'm still working on this one. I am not achieving the goal to talk less (I mean teacher talking less). Had a few challenging behaviours. Didn't handle them well.

Next lesson thought I'd do a classbuilding activity and worked on Mix, Pair, Share. I had posed a mysterious question for them that is serving for this week's homework, and pairs shared their ideas for the answer. The question involves finding what links a famous person (Princess Diana) and the novel we are reading this term (Little Brother by Allan Baillie). This took longer than it should (some extra time getting the process right and dealing with a difficult customer). Had got back to sitting down and I had put the headings up to reveal everyone's ideas when...ding!...shortened period for special event later in the day. My timing was off. Being optimistic we could see this as a cliffhanger ending.

I think the major challenges I am having here are timing and furniture. Cannot discount that my class mangement skills are rusty. But am I up to moving furniture at the beginning and ending of each lesson? We'll see.

About the question....proving interesting as I have found more than I first knew that links the two.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Cooperative Learning – Kagan Workshops

This workshop in Sydney on 12th April was an invigorating day spent working in practical terms on concepts and structures for implementing cooperative learning across primary and secondary classes. Laurie Kagan capably managed a large group of teachers through the day. Many school groups were there including several who have cooperative learning structures embedded in their school routines.

Several Parramatta Peelers (and Parramatta Diocese schools generally) were in attendance and certainly the
Kagan philosophy fits right in alongside PEEL.

So what’s all the fuss? Lets look at the guiding concepts first:

TEAMS – There are lots of ways of forming teams but the basis of most of what we did on this day relates to heterogeneous teams of (ideally) four students. A mix of abilities, gender and ethnicity means some care is taken in getting teams right, and teams are not expected to stay the same all year. Five to six weeks is suggested as an ideal time.

WILL – Now, you can’t just tell kids to cooperate and go away. The Kagan way is based on regular classbuilding and team building activities which make the classroom a social and accepting place.

MANAGEMANT – Cooperative learning places demands on the traditional classroom and things may look chaotic at times. So good management is as essential as ever.

SKILLS – A host of social skills are needed for cooperative learning to work, and these will never go astray in or out of class. Teamwork skills include: listening carefully, waiting patiently, taking turns, reaching consensus, resolving conflicts, asking for and offering help. These skills are embedded in the structures used.

BASIC PRINCIPLES – Positive interdependence, Individual accountability, Equal participation and Simultaneous interaction join to form the backbone of the cooperative classroom. (Think PIES)

STRUCTURES – There are over a hundred structures defined in the Kagan material, but starting small is the best advice. Timed Pair Share, RallyCoach, Find My rule are just a few. You probably have your own favourites if you already foster cooperative work with kids. Structures are planned through lessons to enhance content and cluster learning. The Kagan structures are sure to offer you something new.

Probably the most enlightening idea of the day for me (and it was a day full of enlightenment) was the principle of simultaneous interaction. It is so easy to plan to speak for a few minutes and realise too late that you’ve gone on and the kids are zoning out, however relevant the content.

Learning to shorten your teaching time and crossing to kids asking each other questions, checking each others’ understandings, and remembering to praise your partner or team mates means that kids are actively engaged through the lesson, and can avoid that one kid who always answers your questions, and the twenty something who are happy to let him. This is something I know can improve my teaching.

Now, I admit that I did refer to some materials I bought at the workshop to write the above (although the handout we received on the day was an excellent and interactive one). To have a look at books, smartcards (handy summary cards) and posters take a look at
Kagan Products available in Australia through Hawker Brownlow.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Applying the Geographer's Skills

At Where on Earth…? You don’t have Carmen Santiago (or that annoying travel agent of hers) to help you solve these mysteries. Take a Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) image from NASA and see if you can identify the location. Each of these quizzes has clues for you and there are links to other resources, although a good atlas is a great way to start. Begin at Number 1 of the 23 as they seem to get a bit more complicated as they go on, or seek out some with specific relevance to your program. Although the time has passed for sending in your answers you can check the correct ones and read about how others have solved the task. The spectacular images are perfect for displaying with a digital projector and interactive whiteboard and lend themselves to class discussion of geographic features and application of skills.

"These puzzles are designed to inspire understanding of the physical, biological and human processes that influence our home planet and cover topics from archaeology to Zoology." From Where on Earth homepage.