Scarcity, Engagement and Collaboration #resvt #cesuvt

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This year I have been teaching a combined fourth grade Enrichment/Library class with Enrichment Teacher Darcie Rankin (see some posts about this class here  and here). Over the past few weeks, our students have been working in groups to film book trailers (commercials) as a culminating project for a unit on media literacy. The students have been using the iMovie app on iPads to film and edit their trailers.

Before the filming started, Darcie and I noticed that some of the groups were struggling with the process of planning their trailers. We had based the number of groups on the number of iPads available; with two teacher iPads and two iPads from the library, we had groups of four to six students working together on each trailer. We were concerned that these groups might be too large for effective collaboration between the students, but without additional devices we weren’t able to make the groups any smaller.

Instead we decided to teach some student behaviors that would lead to more effective group work. Our district has been focusing on student engagement, so we made a list of behaviors of students who were engaged with their groups:

  • Bodies close together
  • Faces turned toward the group
  • Take turns to talk
  • Only one person talks at a time
  • Everyone has a chance to talk
  • Active listening, even if you disagree
  • Face the speaker
  • Think only about what the speaker is saying

We wanted to show students what these engaged behaviors looked and sounded like, so we searched online for some good video examples. We found several videos of older students (middle, high, and college ages) but nothing we thought would work for our fourth graders. In the end we made our own short video using examples from our classes of groups that were modeling the engaged behaviors. We showed the video at the beginning of each class the next week, and referred back to the video and the expected behaviors when we saw groups start to struggle. The disengaged behavior I noticed the most was students “checking out” by walking away from their groups or turning their faces away from a discussion. When that happened I was able to say to the students, “I notice you are…what should this look like for you to be working with your group?” and the students were able to get back on task quickly.

Since we tried this approach, we have seen more successful communication and cooperation among our students. The group in the picture at the top of this post had been struggling to plan and film their book trailer together, but by the end of the second class they had produced an iMovie they were all proud of. Darcie captured the moment when I started watching their finished trailer, and I’m sure you can see from their body language how eager they were to share their work. And Darcie and I were proud that a project that started with concerns about scarcity of resources became a chance for our students to practice an essential 21st century skill: collaboration.

More information about 21st Century Skills and collaboration is available from the Partnership for 21st Century Skills.

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