In an earlier posting I (Clive) advocated giving students a lot of “air time” in class, and outlined several techniques for ensuring that all students are heard. I’ve just (re)discovered a further technique – “Jigsaw” – and am using it in my summer courses. I can’t believe I took so long to see its potential!
In Jigsaw the readings for a class are assigned beforehand to different students, and when they go into small groups each has to speak to “their” reading. This reduces the reading load and gives each student a chance to speak to their item. It also decreases the likelihood of one student dominating the small group. Moreover, it takes some pressure off the teacher to expound all the readings themselves.
I used to employ Jigsaw but stopped because it seemed as if I was forcing students to read the articles; also it seemed to require having the same groups for every class, a practice I’ve moved away from.
What I do now is give every student a permanent Jigsaw number – either 1 or 2 – and assign just 2 articles for small group discussion. This means I can form new groups each class. Another advantage is that with more than one student speaking to an article, the pressure on individual students is reduced and the discussion becomes more collaborative.
As with any group work, of course, the topic has to be interesting to the students so they approach the discussion with enthusiasm rather than just going through the motions. So far, it seems to working!
One of the greatest joys of my (Cathy’s) job is observing student teachers in their teaching practicums. In my next few blogs I will be happily sharing some of the highlights from these visits.
Yesterday I was observing a student teacher instruct a grade six science class exploring electrical currents. The student teacher wisely arranged his students into collegial groups and then gave each group a paper bag full of various parts (batteries, wires, light bulbs, switches etc.). The students were expected to find a way to put the put the parts together that would create an electrical current, hence lighting up the light bulb. It was fascinating watching the students trouble shoot their way through the process. They were so engaged. I was proud of the student teacher for setting up the investigation so well. Suddenly there was a squeal from the corner group. One of the boys was holding up a lit light bulb. His smile was brighter than the bulb. “What did you do?” I asked him. He was silent for a few seconds, staring in amazement at the lit bulb. Then he said, “I have no idea.” Everyone laughed. The process of deduction then began as the group tried to figure out why it worked. And next week I get to observe completely different classes, making entirely new discoveries. Lucky me.
I (Clive) am a great believer in whole-class and small-group discussion. However, three and four years ago I was terrorized by a series of individual students who dominated discussion in class, speaking at least 50% of the time – they would have talked 90% if I’d let them. I’m sure they did the same in their small group, if I wasn’t in the group.
This forced me to develop a set of techniques for giving everyone a turn. They’re simple but effective. Most students appreciate them, and they’ve enabled me to relax and not always be cutting people off (though I still have to be firm). I wish someone had introduced me to them long ago.
The techniques assume the class is no larger than 35 (I have any bigger class divided up) and is seated in a large circle (I arrange the seating before the students come in). They also assume that students get a lot of “air time” in class, otherwise it’s impossible for everyone to have a turn.
Here are the techniques:
- Going around the room, with each student (or every 2nd or 3rd student) saying what they think about the topic in hand (don’t worry if you don’t get all the way round).
- Discussion in 2s and 3s around the room, followed by reporting from each group.
- Numbering off to form small groups, followed by discussion and reporting back.
- Individual prepared presentations (ungraded, maximum 4 minutes) – 2 to 4 per class – with 3 people to the left or right of the presenter responding.
- Whole-class discussion after a “mini-lesson” from me, with a speakers list formed as people put up their hands.
I find students are very glad to be called on in these ways: no one has ever declined. And the approach greatly strengthens community as we hear from and get to know everyone, including many who’ve been largely “voiceless” throughout their school and university career. It fosters oral literacy and results in truly inclusive education.
If anyone has other strategies, please let me know!