Friday, October 28, 2005

Playing God

Insert evil scheming laughter here: bwahahaha!

Now is the time to reconfigure small group discussions. Since my classes are around 40 students each, I must resort to small group work most of the time. Not my favorite... since making students stay on task and then making them listen as they all report back to the larger group is quite a challenge. But that's a blog for another time.

At the beginning of the semester I divide them into small groups based on last name. Some groups work well, others don't. So I revise the groups after midterms. And here is my confession: I use the reconfiguration as a way to reward good students and to (somewhat) increase pressure on the unprepared students. I start with my group list and highlight all the good students -- the students who are habitually prepared and engaged. The students who sometimes have to "carry" the weight of the small group, who have to explain the reading to their non-reading colleagues, and then give the report during large group discussion. I figure these students deserve to be rewarded -- they deserve to be assigned to a small group where they can talk to others like them, to others who have done the work and want to talk about it.

Which usually leaves approximately two groups of students who had previously been "dead weight" in their small groups. The ones who were not prepared, were not doing the work, and who were content to coast on their colleagues' efforts. When I first started doing this, I figured that (in a small, petty sense) this "served them right" for their prior efforts.

But then something interesting happened. When faced with the need to actually do the work, with the need to actually prepare their report... the "Slacker Groups" actually came up with something! Sure, I sometimes have to embellish what they've said so that the class as a whole gets the complete picture, and sure, they might be faced with more awkward silences within their discussions as they're not used to participating. But with the pressure on, they must become accountable members of the class as a whole.

Am I an evil genius? Or just evil?

4 Comments:

At 2:01 PM, Blogger timna said...

I'd say genius.

 
At 7:25 PM, Blogger jo(e) said...

Interesting observation. And it makes sense. I might have to start doing this. Usually I get nervous about putting together a group of slackers, but I like your logic.

 
At 11:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Pure genius! I wish I'd had a teacher like you. I'm definitely borrowing your idea.

 
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