New Challenges to Consider
In the education system, we still suffer the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic daily in our classrooms. By now, we are all exhausted of how the pandemic impacted our schools and frustrated at the effects on the process of our instructional methods and needs. As educators strive to break down any and all barriers in their classrooms that impact students learning, we have to take a look at our approach and challenges brought on that truly do still exist due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
An example of a newer challenge that educators are experiencing that I will reference throughout this article is the idea that students, especially elementary students, were/are not able to work in groups as frequently as before the pandemic. When students work in groups this allows them to enhance their communication skills as well as any other professional development skills that are needed. Students working in groups create more opportunities for critical thinking and promote student learning and achievement.
Peer learning, or peer instruction, is a type of collaborative learning that involves students working in pairs or small groups to discuss concepts or find solutions to problems. Students have not had this opportunity in over three years due to pandemic restrictions. Educators are now faced with concerns as restrictions are lifted, but our students are lacking the basic skills needed to be able to work collaboratively with one another.
How to Determine Your Classroom Goals
Going off of the group work example, as educators try to reorganize their thought process and instruction on effectively running groups and delivering instruction in a balanced format, we need to analyze what obstacles we are dealing with inside our classrooms. In an elementary school, not having students work in groups is something that is almost unheard of. The idea that elementary students should be taught as a whole group, is to almost unimaginable. We should consider that even our very young learners can become independent in their learning and guided early on they will be more likely to grow into well-rounded young learners as they develop key skills.
As educators we have to ask ourselves, what can we do differently? First, we need to take a step back and start from the very beginning. This may be necessary even with our older students. Some students have never effectively worked in a small group and may be in third grade. Think about how many skills these students could be lacking due to not having the exposure of small group work.
Before setting a goal for yourself and determining what area to focus on, observations of where the true learning issue is occurring should be determined. As with any goal that is set, we have to be sure that the goal is obtainable as well based on what skills the students are lacking and the growth, or lack of, is able to be measured.
When to Evaluate and Adjust Your Goal
Before any evaluation or adjustments can be made for this example, we must not overlook the idea that students may not know the expectations when working with groups. Before starting to have students work in groups is important to make sure that students understand the expectations. Providing the students a list of expected group norms ahead of time is always beneficial.
For young students, providing visuals and having a discussion about expectations is helpful. When reviewing the norms, asking engaging questions and checking for understanding will ensure if the students are ready to work together. Allowing time for get-to-know-you activities, or “ice breakers”, is a great way to ensure that students are comfortable and familiar with one another. By using an ice breaker this can easily be monitored to see if students are following the norms.
After groups work has begun, it is essential to highlight the positive interactions that are witnessed during their learning time. Explaining to the students what they are doing in a positive way as well as who was involved in the positive interactions is critical. Recognizing students for their valuable contributions, such as clarifying questions or providing a small idea that sparks further discussion is also important. The more praise that students are receiving, the more likely they are to have success when working together. Once group work seems to be a success, it is time to step back and adjust. Raise expectations for what the tasks are as well as what the expected outcome should be. Evaluating what areas still need to be improved upon will guide the way you adjust and change your goals as well as your instruction.
The outcome of focusing on students working in groups is rewarding. As our students’ teachers, we are able to watch each student’s learning, confidence, critical thinking skills improve right in front of us. Teachers are able to see the students’ social interaction, problem solving, critical thinking and other necessary skills improve right inside their classrooms. While students are learning to work in groups, the opportunities for their classroom community are endless.
Evaluating and setting goals like this example can really refresh your classroom for the new year!
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