I am going to be doing a lot more intentional group work next year with my classes. I’m definitely envisioning this for my Algebra II classes, and if I can come up with some good materials, for my Calculus classes too.
Today at PCMI, I was introduced to a way to do groupwork well. I am dismayed that I haven’t seen this before, because in some ways, it’s so obvious that I don’t know why it hasn’t made the rounds into my brain. I need to type it out here to codify it in my brain.
It’s called a “Participation Quiz.”
What I’m going to do is describe the video we watched of a teacher implementing it.
The teacher has students sitting in groups of 4. She introduces a worksheet she created to help students multiply binomials, but with some positive and some negative constants — because she saw that it was tough for her kids to deal with negative numbers when multiplying binomials. She had everyone’s attention on her, at the front of the room, and she says “today will be a participation quiz.” She then lays out her classroom norms for groupwork, some of which included:
- Everyone in the group must participate equally. There isn’t a leader, or the same person leading the show. The voices are shared.
- Students should not work too quickly. If they work simply to finish the sheet, without any other consideration, they aren’t doing it right.
- No one moves on until everyone understands. This isn’t about everyone having the same thing written down — but everyone has to know why.
- Students should think out loud. Students should check in with each other. Students should ask questions of one another.
She then let’s them get started.
As the groups work, she is both circulating, and sometimes at her laptop. When she is at her laptop, she is taking notes on each group — and displaying her notes on her smartboard live. Initially, her smartboard has group names (“purple group” “red group” …) written on there. It also has some specific actions which can be copied/pasted under each group, if they occur. Examples are:
negative actions: too quiet, talking outside group, off task, texting, different problems [students in the group are on different problems, not on the same problem]
good phrases: “I don’t get how you…”, “What did you get for…?”, “Can you also do it this way…?” “How did you…?” “Are we ready to move on…”
good actions: quick start [group started right away], reading directions out loud, same problem [everyone in the group is on the same problem], pointing and explaining, WHY???, BECAUSE!!!, calling group members out, all heads in, checking calculations/work, thinking out loud, equal participation.
Notice that these are specific things the teacher is listening for and looking for. They are actions — body language, speaking, interactions, etc.
The teacher watches and listens as she walks around or is at her computer. If she noticed any of the actions/phrases/comments, she typed them in her computer under the group name. It appears automatically on the SmartBoard for all to see.
At one point, one of the groups wasn’t working together. The teacher sat down and re-explained what the participation quiz to them, and even said “I’d rather you all work together and be stuck on one problem the entire class. This is about working together and coming to a shared understanding.” She then started getting them talking to each other, and then left.
The teacher also didn’t only copy and paste from the pre-written list on the SmartBoard, but also transcribed specific phrases/actions: everyone trying combos, oh right, you’re multiplying” “would it be -21?” “so you mult… and…” “I got… that’s because…” “what do you think about that?”
At the end, her SmartBoard was full — a bit messy, but full. She did not shy away from writing the negative comments too. One group had “off task” written 3 times! What’s nice is that the teacher had a mathematical learning goal, but the lens through which she viewed the class (and the lens through which she had students view the class) was about classroom participation/engagement/teamwork. The two aren’t divorced.
She recapped the mathematical goal, but then she talked briefly about what she observed. She asked them questions about her SmartBoard. Under one group, her note said “I don’t know what to do after this?” and then she asked the class if that was a good or bad interaction. Most of the class said “bad” but through discussion she got them to realize it was good! That by saying that, someone is going to help that student, and the student may soon understand something. Through this process, she started clarifying the group norms for teamwork.
There are so many amazing things about this. For me, this sort of activity, done a lot at the beginning of the year, is a concrete way to provide meaningful feedback for kids when talking about something as vague and “in the air” as participation. It builds the expectations for the rest of the year. It generates good conversations about what good groupwork is, and why. It provides the teacher a tool to get students to talk mathematically, and provide feedback. (Carol, one of the PCMI organizers, told me she will sometimes told me that sometimes she will do this and tell her kids she will only be looking for students justifying mathematics and those are the only notes she puts on the board.)
I don’t know if the teacher in the video actually assigned grades to each group. I think that’s something we’re going to be discussing in our groups tomorrow. But at the very least, it’s a really powerful way to spend 50 minutes on a mathematical goal while you are inculcating your class with a more “hidden curriculum” goal too.
I also think that a class, collectively generating groupwork norms (and the teacher adding missing but important ideas) could be a powerful exercise before engaging in this activity the first time. And using those norms as the lens to which to watch and critique students.