Week 32: Small Group Academic Conversations

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The goal is independence! Can first graders conduct small group discussions without the teacher?  This week, I gradually released my first grade students to have small group academic conversations independently to find out. 

To model how to conduct small group discussions independent of the teacher, I had the students sit in a circle.  Then, I asked for five volunteers to have a conversation in the circle.  This form of modeling is known as a fishbowl.   While volunteers were having a conversation, I asked the students to observe what the students in the circle are doing.  The five volunteers independently discussed what they thought was an important concept in a book we had just read aloud. Of course, I was strategic is making sure the volunteers have strong oral language and have demonstrated the ability to actively listen.  

After the fishbowl, I had students watching tell what they noticed.  One student said he noticed all eyes were on the speaker. One noticed everyone kept their body parts to themselves.  Another said that they took turns talking.  A student followed up saying, “equity of voice.”   I affirmed their observations by saying that the volunteers were actively listening to each other. 

Next, I divided the class into small groups and assigned each of the volunteers to serve as the facilitator.  I explained the role of the facilitator.  These “leaders” were thrilled to get the job of facilitator and took their role seriously.  As the groups were sharing their thinking, I circulated to observe for what students were able to do independently.  A couple of the groups had difficulty getting started so I had to support the facilitator to get the group going.  After the small group conversations, we came back together and some people shared what they thought was an important concept and provided evidence from the story.  Others expressed their thinking by showing a thumb up when they agreed with the speaker.

Then, I asked the facilitators for feedback.  I asked what went well and what were some of the problems they had in their groups.  Facilitators reported that some people did not want to talk.  With this feedback, I said our next step would be to figure out how to invite people into the conversation. 

For their first attempt to conduct a conversation by themselves, the students managed themselves pretty well.  I heard students using sentence stems like I agree and I’d like to add.  I heard facilitators asking their peers,  “What do you think?”  It seems the same students reluctant to speak in whole group were also quite reserved even in a small group discussion.  

As for next steps, I plan to put them into small discussion groups again after we read the next book and work on getting all students to contribute to the discussions. Eventually, the goal is for the groups to collaborate and present a group consensus as to what they think is an important concept first just orally and then with a visual such as a poster.  I believe they are capable and they are certainly rising to the expectations!

Comments

Liss O'Connell's picture

Creating independent learners is the goal of any teacher.  I believe these types of protocols need to be set up from the beginning of the year so that students expect it as a part of the class.  Even at the high school level this is hard to do. But I liked how you gave them jobs, modeled what was expected and gave students the chance to try it on their own.  

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Donna Long's picture

I gradually released my first-grade students to have small group academic conversations independently to find out. Creating freelance learners is that the goal of any teacher. I feel these kinds of protocols ought to come upon from the start of the year in order that students expect it as a region of the category. Buy Essay Even at the high school level, this can be onerous to try to.

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