Celebrate: What is being taught

The attributes of group work are many. Multiple brains working on the same problem to create better thinking is a worthy objective. But the power of a group can also produce the opposite. I saw that happen in my fifth-grade classroom this week. The less resilient crumbled. Unspoken stereotypes cropped up. Learning objectives became sidetracked.

It made me think about what is being taught and what needs to be taught.

Friday, students formed groups and were given limited resources and time to build the tallest and most stable tower.  This fun problem-solving, listening, speaking, and synthesizing activity was a part of a day of math and science learning.

A group of boys dumped the materials out of the bag, and all started talking at once. The loudest and most forceful boy took charge rejecting ideas, promoting others. All but one, fed into his leadership.  Jack*walked away wanting his own materials saying, “They said my ideas are stupid. I’m never right.” I brought this to the group’s attention to which another member, Matt* offered, “I’ve been told my ideas won’t work five times!” Jack* fell apart after one rejection but Matt* didn’t give up.

A group of girls approached the work methodically. They produced efficiently, listening to everyone’s ideas. I watched thinking this is the way it should go. But in the end, they were out-performed. The once positive group turned sour.  I heard, “Why bother if you can’t win.” Their structure ended up in the trash.

Another group girls sat and stared at the materials. They talked. I walked over to inquire what they were thinking. As it turned out, they had already given up. They said they weren’t smart enough to beat others so why try.  Ironically, after a bit of coaching, they produced the tallest, stablest tower.

The pressure to be right, to be heard, to try, to win brought out strengths and weaknesses in each student. And, it made me question what is being taught and learned.

This week I celebrate seeing my students outside the light of reading and writing.
I celebrate discussions that include listening.
I celebrate opportunities to try.
I celebrate losing.
I celebrate unexpected success.
I celebrate questioning what and how we teach.

Read other celebrations here @ Ruth Ayers Writes.

9 thoughts on “Celebrate: What is being taught

  1. Group work. It can be the best or the worst of times. I’ve watched students who can’t handle the pressure crumble. I’ve also seen groups come together and excel. Such a tricky thing. I’m glad you are able to celebrate all of it, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

  2. I do a STEM activity similar to what you did every Friday in my 5th grade classroom. There are moments when situations like this happen, where someone takes over or gives up, but it has gotten better. It’s hard for kids to work together and listen to each other, but they are such important skills that lead to success in life. If they don’t learn them with us, where will they learn them? Grit and growth mindset are those soft skills we all need in life. Keep celebrating these moments because they matter!

    • I love that you do a STEM activity every Friday. I used to do Genius Hour every Thursday. A weekly venture to hands on learning is something to revitalize. Thanks for your thoughts.

  3. Listening, questioning, and opportunities to try sound like a wonderful experience not only for your students but for you to observe and nudge.

  4. Classrooms are such microcosms of the greater community. I find your first celebration– “seeing my students outside the light of reading and writing” –to very thought provoking.

  5. Julieanne, you have described the dynamics of group discussions so well. It is a wonder how classrooms without great teacher guidance can survive the togetherness time to solve problems. I have heard from many business groups that they need employees who can work in groups to solve problems.

  6. Love this peek into the group dynamics in your classroom and your thinking around it. It’s a puzzlement, and sometimes hard to know what to do to encourage group problem solving.

  7. So hard to balance the . . .

    “Do I step in and help solve?. . . .”
    “How much time do I give them to resolve this successfully? . . .”
    vs. a more directive “Just be nice!”

    Thanks so much for another glimpse into your classroom!

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