Left of Centers – The Aftermath

In my last post I wrote a description of a complex large group activity that confused even me. Just writing it wore me out.

So I cut everything that sounded too hard. While I did use multiple sources, some short and others long, I did not break the class up into levels nor did I assign certain reading to certain students. Instead I put everything in a pile and said, “If you’re reading Tangerine, go over there. If you’re reading Peak, you’re in the corner. If you’re reading Zach’s Lie, you’re up front. Go.” And they went.

It was AWESOME!!!

Students worked hard. They didn’t complain. I can count on one hand the kids who were off task. One hand for the whole day. No arguments over who was going to read what.  No arguments over who had to write. For the most part students picked the articles I would have assigned to them anyway. Students divided up the reading. Students decided what to take notes on. Students decided when to come together and what to write. They worked hard.

The Official Assignment: I gave each group a guiding question and a large stack of material. They divided up the material, took notes keeping the guiding question in mind, came together to share notes and then composed a mini-essay (two to three paragraphs long) to answer the question. While there were multiple answers to each question, they had to support the answer they inferered with information from everyone’s reading. Both the notes and the combined answer were turned in to make sure everyone worked and everyone had a say in the answer. No one was left out.

A few things I did differently than normal. I allowed large groups. It is rare in my class that groups are over three people, but some groups were as large as six or seven. I also didn’t ask them to do any research. I usally like to combine lessons and would have asked them to use the index to find info, but for this activity, I marked the pages for them to read, I printed out the resources and I had the web pages already up on the computer. All they had to do was read and take notes. This came from me really thinking about what I wanted kids to learn from this…and research wasn’t really the point.

Coming up next…I am now calling this a station because students will be repeating this same activity next week. This time they can choose the question from the remaining two stations. Since I read their answers last night and handed them back with notes today, they will be repeating the assignment without my help. (In fact, the big plan for next week is to hold Socratic Seminars with the students from one book, while students from the other books are working.) The final activity will be to write an essay on one of the questions. For the essay, they will be allowed to pull in more of their opinion rather than support everything with fact.

If I could do it over I would consider time a little more. Once again I felt the forty-five minute class was minutes too short. I had to allow more time today to finish the activity (although the notes I made were really helpful to some groups). Since it was supposed to be a silent reading day, I felt really bad about it. Another consideration would be to model what an final answer should look like. Many groups had to do a second draft because they misunderstood what I expected. Finally, before we repeat the activity I would like to master Diigo Educators. I could have done this in the computer lab and not used so much paper. I could have had one printed article, some books and then multiple websites instead of a stack of wasted papers on my desk waiting for my daughters to color on them.

But the best part was when I asked my classes if they liked the activity. One student’s answer, “Class was actually fun today!”




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3 responses to “Left of Centers – The Aftermath

  1. It sounds like it was a success and your hard work in planning paid off. Good for you for taking the risk and trying something new! I did a staff training on Assessment and Evaluation on Tuesday that was differentiated with “centers”: podcast/online discussion, video and small group discussion, article jigsaw, or panel discussion. The amount of prep time was substantial to say the least, but I think it got some teachers thinking that maybe it was something they could try, too.

  2. Hi, Heather,
    Reminds me of the organized chaos of what I used to call rotations. Centers just didn’t sound cool enough for my high school classroom. In my mind I call it a great teaching circus! Good for you for stepping out of your comfort zone and trying it–especially on a 45 minute schedule. Rotations worked best for me when we had a 90 minute block schedule. The resources you gave each group remind me of text sets Cris Tovani talks about in her books. How did the group presentations go?

    • hrmason

      Skipped the group presentations. Glad I did mainly because of time, not because I didn’t value the activity. But most of the students were really good about bringing back good info to the group. Funny you should mention Tovani. I am going to see her speak in about two weeks. Have her book sitting on my desk. I am also glad you mentioned chaos…whenever the room gets like that, there is always part of me that wonders if it is supposed to be like that. Thanks for commenting.

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