Monday, December 9, 2013

Collaborative Structures and Inquiry in a 1:1 Class

I've been lucky to get to work with a really awesome teacher candidate (TC) this year: she has totally rolled with and been flexible in the weird (or more accurately the hot mess) that is my classroom. She asks good questions. She adds value to assignments and projects.

She has been working recently on a group task that she taught and is an assignment for one of her grad school classes. I went through the same grad program she did, and this was a class I remember pushing back a little bit against the class this assignment was for as well.

There are some structures to this group task that are imposed on TCs that they are required to use. As I reflected on her task with her, we got into a fascinating discussion about fostering collaboration versus assigning group work.

I then took this discussion to a few awesome members of my PLN. After bouncing ideas around with them, a few things became clear. One, the difference that I was trying to force between collaboration and groupwork was, as Kelly Kermode rightly pointed out, largely about labeling the negative aspects of poorly designed or thought out groupwork as groupwork and labeling the better parts of groupwork as collaboration.

So what were my issues? Hokey roles being assigned to kids. Too much structure in the resources - my class is 1:1 - for my liking. Not always having the necessary time crunch - in group tasks, kids can fall into what Jon Corippo calls The Suck: periods that lack productivity because of this lack of a time crunch. (Or sometimes because there isn't enough work for the kids to do, and people feel like they can slack off - someone else will do the work. But that's my addition to The Suck.)

So where is all this going? Yeah, that.

Well, all these ideas - yes, ideas fueled by an awesome PLN (#BetterTogether) - created a new iteration of historical inquiry for my kids. In groups of three or four, they had sixty minutes to figure out why people allowed the Holocaust to happen. I provided some initial resources and a description of the product. I intentionally created a task that was too big for kids to get done in sixty minutes. (Link to the description of the task is here.) They had to divide up the work and talk about what their research turned up and then create.

Collaborative Google docs were started immediately. Some groups made graphic organizers on the docs. Others cordoned off parts of the page to take notes on. And then they went at it.

I haven't had a chance to look over the products yet, but there was a lot I like about this task. It was too big for groups to handle without collaborating on it so The Suck didn't happen. Kids had to share - and listen - to their group members. And they had to come to some sort of a consensus about why people allowed the Holocaust to happen.

Was it perfect? No. Inquiry never will be. Was it a step in the right direction? I'm going with a hearty yes on that. The size do the task made collaboration necessary. Kids had a real reason to use devices: they needed to go out and locate more resources and test their hypothesis. The lesson was a step in the right direction towards what collaborative inquiry can be in a 1:1 classroom.

So what's next? A couple things. Look at the products my kids produced. Think more about the level of scaffolds that I provided for them: were more needed? Fewer? And finally - and most importantly - ask the kids how it went. What changes do they think need to be made?

I'm excited to keep pushing on this: good collaborative historical inquiry that leverages tech? That's moving towards exciting places in SAMR land.