Collaborative Dialogue: Large group collaborations
Keeping teacher voice out of large-group discussions is easier said than done! In the years that I helped teachers implement collaborative strategies, this was absolutely the toughest hurtle! It is not easy to just let go and let the kids. But until this happens, it’s not happenin’!
STEPS LEADING TO GROUP AUTONOMY
I tried a multitude of methods before successfully implementing large-group collaborations. I gave groups teacher-questions to discuss; I invited “sit in-circle and do what you did with a partner” (duh!); I joined their discussions, attempting to connect them to each other; I told them to “takes turns asking questions." Finally, I gave up and just sat there, vowing to stay silent. Yet, no matter what was offered, the group responded by looking at me! And not much was said–––except by a couple of our loquacious kids. So here’s what I did next, and . . .
STEP 1: turn observations into questions
Since we’d already constructed that list of observed conversation behaviors and participated in lots of knee-to-knee sharing, I invited “ Let’s look at our observations and see if we can reconstruct them into questions, like, ‘Did everyone listen? Did we respond to everyone who spoke?’”
STEP 2: STUDENT OBSERVERS ASSESS CONVERSATION
The kids quickly caught on and converted our list of observations into questions (like those above). Then, I asked two kids who loved the limelight (the talkers), plus a couple of others, to sit outside the circle to be our observers, noting every YES item. The focus was on what the group did well–––only items marked YES. With two talkative group members reincarnated into observers, more of the group contributed. What’s more, the observers truly enjoyed their role as well.
STEP 3: CREATE STRATEGIES FOR IMPROVEMENT
It was amazing how the group grew into a conversation community–––even with different observers! I never asked the group: “What were you doing wrong?” But, I did ask them to think of some strategies they could try that might help the group function even better. Together, they came up with some strategies that worked! For example:: “We could ask quiet kids, ‘What do you think about this?’” I even caught that one on video!
LET GO AND WATCH THEM GROW!
Finally, the kids (sans teacher) could demonstrate group conversations that knocked my socks off! Years later, when I became a literacy coach, the teachers and I helped students of all ages (even grad school) become skilled in large-group, collaborative conversations. (See video example of fifth graders at our school discussing The Great Gilly Hopkins by Katherine Patterson.)
For more help and info, see my book, Knee to Knee, Eye to Eye, By Ardith Davis Cole, Stenhouse.