I was compelled.
It was time for my formal observation.
In the past, I approached formal observations with the intensity and planning of a military training mission. I over-planned. Spent days scripting conversation, flow of delivery, drafting responses to the information I’m sharing as well as potential shenanigans. I know from experience that the unexpected moments are the most delightful ones, but I wouldn’t meet any unprepared. Over and over I mulled and turned the information until I had mentally taught the information thousands of times prior to the observation.
This year, with cooperative learning brimming at the shores of my creativity, I was open to uncertainty. I should clarify that the lesson planning is actually more intense in cooperative learning, because you are relinquishing the control of the information flow and turning it over to the students to embrace and synthesize.
I know, I get palpitations, too.
But, it’s scientifically proven to be a more effective learning method and, you get to teach the most important curricular element which should thread through every lesson. You get to teach the one thing that should be taught so much and so well that the very walls whisper it…you get to teach students how to learn.
With cooperative learning, you structure the ways in which children absorb and share their learning and…you make them accountable for this process.
The new unit is animals, kingdoms, classifications, what all living things need. There is always an animal expert. In every class I’ve taught, 5th, 2nd, Kindergarten, there is always an expert. My jaw dropped this year when my darling properly used the term symbiotic relationship. Oh, I love my work!
In the past, I’ve prepared ActivInspire flip-charts, meticulously reading animal articles, searching for proper images and videos to convey and reveal the awesome animal kingdom we are a part of.
This year, I built the lessons so that groups of students would work together to learn about one of two animal kingdoms, synthesize their learning in a poster and present it to the whole class. The first group of animals were birds and fish. The assessment was an attribute sort.
Cooperative learning has structures, all of which must be in play in order to have an authentic cooperative learning lesson. Otherwise you just have group work, and we all know how that can go awry.
The structures of cooperative learning as identified by David and Roger Johnson and Edythe Holubec in their book Cooperation in the Classroom are: Positive Interdependence-team members perceive that they need each other in order to complete the group’s task. Individual Accountability-accessing the quality and quantity of each member’s contributions and giving the results to the group Group Processing-groups need time to discuss how well they are achieving their goals and maintaining effective working relationships among members. Social Skills (Interpersonal and Small Group Skills)-groups must utilize collaborative skills such as instructorship, decision-making, trust-building, communication & conflict management Face to Face Promotive Interaction-team members promote each other’s productivity by helping, sharing, and encouraging efforts to produce.
Our approach to cooperative learning in the lower elementary classroom is to build the foundation for the full model by focusing on one or two of these structures at a time. For this lesson, I focused on social skills and face to face promotive interaction. The fish/bird activity veered off course a bit. I had hooked the students’ interest but failed to give them the structure they needed to be successful in groups. Four groups later, two were successful, one lacked consensus and the fourth was struggling with control issues that ranged from who would hold the iPad to who would illustrate the poster first.
Did learning happen? Yes. Was it optimal? No.