Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!

Super Teacher's Job is Never Done!
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Teaching is the profession that teaches all the other professions. ~ Author Unknown

My goal is to reveal one teacher's humble journey of self-reflection, critical analysis, and endless questioning about my craft of teaching and learning alongside my middle school students.

"The dream begins with a teacher who believes in you, who tugs and pushes and leads you to the next plateau, sometimes poking you with a sharp stick called 'truth'." ~ Dan Rather

Monday, November 8, 2010

Random Grouping from the Start: A Best Practice?

Our staff development teacher recommended the following article from September 2008 for our reading and review this week. Much of its content resonated with my own experiences in the classroom as a student. As an educator, it also had me rethinking the ways I group students and how I can better suit all of their learning needs.

Best Practice for Equity: Random Grouping 

September 19, 2008 

Consider the following question.  Did you go to elementary school with
essentially the same group of students?  Or perhaps, even through
middle school and high school.  Think about the students who were your
friends.  Think, too, about peers that you may have chosen not to be
friends with or with whom you had little academic and/or social
interaction.  Many of us can picture students like this.  In a school
system, increasingly reflective of racial, ethnic, linguistic, and
socio-economic diversity, it becomes imperative that we find ways to
build positive relationships among students that support academic
achievement by ensuring all students feel connected, confident, and
cared about by their peers.  One way to do this is through grouping

A preponderance of educators recommends flexible grouping that
provides opportunities for students to be part of many different kinds
of groups during the course of the school day.  Random grouping is a
way to ensure students learn with and from students that they may not
choose to interact with, students with backgrounds, experiences, and
ideas that differ from their own. As students interact within random
groups, there is greater perspective taking and more frequent
opportunities to give and receive explanations that can result in
deeper understanding and increased retention. Responsibility for
learning is shared and social support for academic mastery can
increase as students begin to feel more connected to and accepted by
their peers.  These enhanced abilities to work collaboratively can not
only increase school success, but prepare students for the world of

Below are some ideas for randomly grouping students. 

•     Cut magazine pictures, postcards, or old photos into the same number
of pieces as there will be students in a group.  Mix the pieces in a
bag and ask students to draw a piece without looking.  Students whose
pieces form the whole picture become a group.  Once seated together,
ask students to come to consensus on a title that expresses the main
idea of the picture.  Share group ideas in the whole class and

•     Write four synonyms, one on each of four index cards for key
vocabulary words.  Again place the cards in a bag and ask students to
draw a card without looking.  Students with synonyms form a group and
discuss the different connotations of the words.  Use SAT vocabulary
words for older students.  This method can be used with antonyms or
homonyms if you want to form pairs instead of larger groups.  Pairs
follow up by writing sentences that contain both words. 

•     Identify quotes related to an instructional concept.  Write each
quote on a piece of paper and cut into the same number of pieces as
there will be students in a group.  After students pick a piece
without looking and form a group, ask group members to individually
write a sentence or two that express their response to the quote.
Group members share their responses one at a time without discussion.
The rule is to listen to understand what has been shared, not
respond.  Once everyone has read their sentences students discuss the
similarities and difference in their responses. 

•     On index cards write words that belong to instructional categories,
such as book titles written by the same authors or parts of speech.
Students draw the cards and find the other students with words from
the same category. Once they groups are formed, group members create a
visual representation of the category using pictures and symbols. 

•     In math, write sets of different problems that have the same answer
on different index cards.  Students draw a card and complete the
problem on their own. Next students find the other students that have
problems with the same answer. Once groups are formed students share
the strategy they used to solve the problem.  For younger children,
you can use basic addition, subtraction, multiplication, or division

•     Pose an opinion-based statement related to an instructional concept
being studied.  For instance, in an ecology unit, the statement could
be, “All resource development of rain forests around the world should
be banned immediately.”  Or make a statement that expresses one point
of view regarding a current event topic. Give students private think
time to consider how much they agree or disagree with the statement.
Based on a scale of 1-5, one being total disagreement and 5 being
total agreement, ask students to form a single line around the
classroom.   Fold the line from one end to the other so that there are
two lines with each student facing a partner.  Allow a specified
amount of time (not more than one minute) for each partner to share
why they agree or disagree with the statement.  Be sure to tell
students that they are not to discuss the topic; one partner listens
while the other talks and then they reverse roles. 

Random grouping can be accomplished in simpler ways as well.  Students
can just count off by the number of groups you want to have (in a
class of 24, have students count off 1-6, to form groups of four) or
use your class list to divide students into groups by their last
name.  Or have students from the same row of desks work together.  All
of these methods will ensure that every student in the class has the
opportunity to work with every other student during the course of a
week.  When beginning random grouping it is best to start with pairs
and to keep the task short.  As students become more comfortable,
confident, and skilled being randomly assigned to work with their
peers, group size and the duration of the task can be increased. 

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