This is how the room is set up. We work in groups all day, every day (except for assessment days). There will be a post later about how to teach with groups, but for now, let’s focus on the features of this set up.
8 Groups of 4
I wish I could remember where I read it, but someone once wrote about the shift from focusing on 32 individual students to 8 groups of 4 students. This has been a huge philosophy change, and it’s helped tremendously. Before, it felt like a game of whack-a-mole at times when managing student questions or off-task behavior. I had to focus on all 32, and it was hard to maneuver through the rows in the room.
However, since making the switch to groups only, many of the student questions are now answered by team members at each group. Also, I’ve been pleasantly surprised that off-task behavior is many times handled by team members (not always of course), and when it’s not, I’m able to focus my attention on just one or two groups. It’s easier to address engagement issues.
Also, there’s more space in between groups which allows kids to stay in their little areas and allows me to be among the students easier. I’m not boxed into the front of the room like I was with rows (how many times do we trip on backpacks while walking through rows?!).
Overall, having kids in groups all the time aligns with the culture of collaboration that we’re looking to create. Group work is not a special thing anymore because we do it all the time. Before, we’d switch from rows to groups only when there was a suitable group activity. This unintentionally made it hard for students to transition to working together. They weren’t used to groups, and it didn’t flow well many times. Those transitions aren’t needed anymore because groups are a permanent part of our classroom DNA.
What’s on the Desks?
This is what each group looks like. At the center is a box with Dry Erase Markers, a towel, and whiteboard spray. This helps with organization and keeps markers from running off as easily.
In addition, there is Dry Erase laminate material on each individual desk so students can easily write with the markers. This has been a great addition to the classroom. Students love writing on the desks and are more likely to write there than they are with paper and pencil. Also, it has been a necessary item for my school’s 1:1 rollout this year. We’re trying to use less paper, but writing on touchscreens isn’t very precise. No need to worry… students can still write out all their work because of the whiteboard material.
The only downside I’ve noticed so far is that the material is very sticky if you need to take it off the desk. It leaves a lot of residue. I think an ideal fix would be to purchase desks that already have whiteboard surfaces (probably too expensive) or to paint each desk with whiteboard paint (probably pretty expensive as well).
Finally, you may have noticed the pink circle sticker on each desk. Each sticker has a number, 1-4, on it. There will be a later post detailing what this is for, but for a quick breakdown…
I’ve been using the numbers to quickly tell kids who their shoulder partner is if I don’t want them immediately working as a group of 4. Also, I like to have one student from each group be the reporter for the group for the class period. Therefore, I’ll announce at the beginning of class that “#4’s will be the talkers today.” This has helped prevent the scenario where the same students are answering questions every day, and it also helps me get out of the habit of cold calling kids. Every answer to a question is a team answer, and if a student is called on, they can always talk to their group to help answer questions. This takes down the pressure to be right whenever answering because it’s not an individual student’s responsibility to answer. It’s the team’s responsibility with a spokesperson to report for the team.
What’s on the Walls?
At the beginning of the year, I leave the walls mostly blank. It’s dull, boring, and creates a need for student creations to go on the walls. Since I teach Geometry, we do a lot of art throughout the year with constructions in order to see the beauty of Geometry. We randomly do cool art from Lisa Bejarano on days like a Friday of a hard working week or the day after a Thursday night football game. We make art for the last 15 minutes of class, and it goes on the wall to spice up the room.
In addition to art, there is a “Growth Wall” (more on that later) where students earn hexagons with their name on them any time they improve their quiz score on a retake or master a concept on our concept checklist.