Week 35: Roles

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What are the facilitators’ role, the groups’ role, and the teacher’s role during small group collaborations? Jennifer Abrams in her recent newsletter, Voice Lessons, wrote about adult collaborations. She pointed out the difference between “facilitating” and “convening” and that when someone convenes a group, the work of the convener is complete and it is up to the group to do the work.  She says, “Some of us are waiting for the facilitator to manage the group, to set the agenda, to be 'in charge.'” She goes on to say, “And, true, a 'not yet expert' group needs assistance. What is exciting is the awareness that the group is in charge of itself and cannot only become good at creating a 'product,' but also in getting more expert in its 'process.'” This newsletter was so timely to help me think about how important for students to learn early on what it means to be in a collaborative group. It made me think about the importance of being explicit in teaching students their roles and responsibilities in order to have productive and effective small group collaborations. 
In light of reading this newsletter, I made sure, this week, students understood that it was everyone’s responsibility to contribute and create a product. In the weeks past, I put the responsibility on the facilitator for the success of the group. So, when we reviewed the behavior expectations, I emphasized it is the responsibility of everyone in the group to sit in a circle, to contribute their ideas, and help write on the paper what the group will share with the whole group.  Since students are still working on the participation protocols, I continued to assess what students are able to take on independently and provide support to successfully collaborate and create a product.  While I do listen for content of their discussions and expect an end product, my main focus is still on the process. 
When the groups came back together, I highlighted what one group did that demonstrated how everyone took a role in completing the product.  I noticed in one group a student who knew how to spell the word the group needed took the role of scribe.  When they needed the title of the book, one student got up to get the book and brought it back to the group.  One of the things most groups did was have someone find a chart around the room or use the word wall to help them with spelling.   Looking for these self-help strategies is one of the things I take note of to bring back to the whole group.   By highlighting desirable behaviors, it affirms what students did well so they can keep doing them. In addition, it provides a model for other groups to replicate.  To reiterate what Jennifer said, What is exciting is the awareness that the group is in charge of itself and cannot only become good at creating a 'product,' but also in getting more expert in its 'process.'”  I think this is one of the things the CCSS Speaking and Listening strand will bring out in classrooms across the nation. 
Are your students collaborating in small groups to create a product to demonstrate their knowledge? What have you noticed? What are your concerns and questions? What tips and suggestions do you have? Inquiring minds want to know. Please comment when you get a chance.