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Show, Don't Tell

posted Jan 21, 2013, 1:39 PM by Kate Petty

10. Don’t Forget! This Is New For The Students Too!

WRITTEN BY: KATE PETTY -originally published MAR• 15•12

Two events happened this week that combined to create quite an epiphany for me.

1. The other day I received some parenting advice: Instead of telling your kids “No!” tell them what they SHOULD be doing.

2. Yesterday I observed a group of seven high school seniors with their heads together, the class novel open in each hand, and they were discussing what they were supposed to be discussing.

I was so surprised by the second event that I stopped class and asked all the other students to take a look at what the group of seven boys was doing.  “THIS is what it’s SUPPOSED to look like- you should all have your HEADS BENT TOWARD each other, BOOKS IN HAND, and engaged in an ON-TOPIC discussion!!!” I announced, still stunned that it had actually occurred.

Guess what?  The phones were put down, the books got open, the study guides were turned to the right page, and they began asking each other for each others’ opinions.  For the rest of the period, every student was involved with heads bent, books in hand, and relevant discussion.  I gave myself a pat on my own back.  Then today I realized why there was such a drastic change.  My students have been so conditioned to sit in their rows and work independently that they DON’T KNOW HOW TO WORK IN GROUPS.

This might seem very “no duh” to most of you but for those of us who haven’t been using collaborative classrooms for long, this is the brightest light bulb to go off in quite a while.  There aren’t many teachers that encourage daily group work at my school and my students don’t know how to do it.  As I was relating my epiphany to a colleague she realized that it usually took her students 5-7 sessions of group work to engage in truly effective group work and by then she usually gave up.  What if we started teaching the students HOW and WHAT collaborative group work looks like?

I tried my theory out a few more times over the last couple of days.  Every time I asked them to engage in a group discussion or independent work I followed my instructions with “This is what it should look like…” and proceeded to explain to them what kind of behavior and action is appropriate for each of the situations.

My Challenge For You: Add “what it should look like” to the end of all of your pre-group/individual work instructions.  We give them rubrics with our expectations for essays, why not give them our expectations for behavior?

What do you think?