How do you and your students determine who will work with whom?

Elizabeth has been reflecting on teaming her speed demons with other speed demons and her katamari with other katamari. She is grouping and regrouping often, paying attention both to how students work and how students work together.

As part of SREB’s Mathematics Design Collaborative, we use the work from student pre-assessments to pair students homogenously on days when we are doing a formative assessment lesson from the Mathematics Assessment Project. Many of our teachers have worried about homogenous pairing. They wonder how two students who have little understanding of the material will learn anything if they are paired with each other. What we are finding, though, is twofold. Since we don’t have to spend as much time with pairs of students who have demonstrated understanding or some understanding, we can focus our time on the pairs of students who have little understanding. In addition, neither student can sit back and rely on the other student to do all of the work. Together, they end up doing something. The formative assessment lessons are written so that all students have entry to the content. Some items are more challenging than others, and we are slowly learning that every student doesn’t have to get to the same place in the collaborative activity. Students work for a certain amount of time and share what they have learned, even though they might not finish the entire activity.

Others (Alex Overwijk and Dylan Kane) cite Peter Liljedahl’s work on visible, random assignment of student teams.

It takes me a long time to get to know someone and feel comfortable sharing my ideas. For many years I let students choose their teams and work together for the entire year. More recently, though, my coworkers and I have used a card sort activity for teaming students on the first day of a unit. Teams work together throughout the unit unless we are enacting a Formative Assessment Lesson (FAL), in which case we team students homogenously based on their pre-assessment.

In geometry, we’ve made card sorts that introduce students to some of the terms and diagrams that we will study in the unit, often leading right in to the first lesson. It often takes a while for students to find their other team members since they don’t already know the content. Alternatively, we could use content/card matches from the previous unit to team them randomly and visibly on the first day.

For the first team sort, I emailed a preview to students the night before class so that they would have some idea of what to expect/what they might do with their card when they came to class.

Many students noted in their end of course feedback that we should keep the team sorts:

I think you should keep putting us into teams, as we can learn from others who think differently or similarly to us. I think you should also keep switching the classes some. I feel like this helped me a lot this year.

I would keep the different groups that are paired up. I feel that the groups helped me to see others point of view not just my own.

switching classes to see different teaching styles and having different groups throughout the year.

The changing of groups because it has helped me make friends and learn to work together with people who frustrate me.

All of our geometry team sorts are linked here.

I’ve heard others talk about teaming and re-teaming several times during a single lesson based on what students know and don’t know yet. I’m not there yet, but I am intrigued by the idea and would like to learn more both about the value of moving around so often and the logistics of what happens to students’ stuff.

And so the journey to figure out who will work with whom continues …