Just like last year, we found the initial organizational stage time consuming and at times an interesting negotiation. There seems to be at least 2 or 3 students each year that do not match up under a larger umbrella group. Finding a place for them to collaborate on their learning journey was a hurdle that we definitely anticipated, and were quickly able to solve.
The one big difference from last year to this is that we are working with 5, 6’s and 7’s; therefore, their base skill level is different. They have all, presumably had exposure to how to take notes, how to brainstorm ideas and how to formulate basic questions. Therefore, the skills we have been focusing on in individual class lessons have been teaching them how to have ‘accountable’ talk and how to formulate quality questions. We have been modelling how to be an active listener when working with group.
When they meet in their groups, we are trying to help them narrow down their questions and move beyond simple easy to answer questions like “How large is a space shuttle?” toward deeper, broader inquiries such as “Should governments spend money on space programs?” It is very rewarding as an educator to watch students move away from the first level of questions and start to develop better, deeper questions.
The biggest hurdle this year, though, continues to be time. Time to collaborate with one another as teachers. It is great that we have built into our timetable a block of time each week where the kids can meet with their learning partners; however, the three of us are often struggling to find time. Eating lunch together, chatting on Edmodo at night, and emailing back and forth. For effective communication and learning to take place each week, we as facilitators of their learning need to have collaboration time. We need opportunities to debrief, talk about what has worked and what is not working. So often this is done on the fly, and one or more of us is left perplexed or uncertain of where we are going next. That said, I often take a deep breath and think back to last year, and remember the inquiry process last year left me often feeling uncomfortable, but that the end results were spectacular.