Small Group Stop-and-Go Signal

Do you use collaborative/cooperative groups in the classroom? If so, here’s a fantastic idea I recently saw science teachers Marilyn Dombrowski and Kristin Combs using at Furness High School in Philadelphia:

    Give each group two plastic cups (16 oz.), one green and one red, and advise them to keep one inside the other in the center of their table (or adjoining desks), with the red one on the outside when a group needs your help and the green on the outside when it doesn’t.

I love this idea for a couple reasons. First, it allows you to see from anywhere in the room which groups need help at any given time. And second, it establishes in a concrete way a key to getting the full benefit of group work: the teacher only helping groups—not individuals—and only when all students in a group are stuck (and have exhausted all other resources). It might even prevent the kind of response I got when I first introduced groups and insisted students ask a classmate for help: “But you’re the teacher. She’s not getting paid.”


2 Responses to Small Group Stop-and-Go Signal

  1. MSB says:

    An Australian study showed that 80% of the feedback students got from their peers was incorrect. The more time students spend in group work and asking their peers for help, the more time they eventually need to spend unlearning incorrect assumptions and relearning correct ones. Why not ask the person who can give them correct feedback the first time?

    • David Ginsburg says:

      Thanks for your comments. I’m unfamiliar with the study you’re referring to–do you have the link/source? My hunch, though, is that there are differences in scope (subject matter, curriculum, etc.) between that study and those showing that groups do in fact improve student learning. Either way, I’ll be blogging more on this topic, starting with a post later today where, in some ways, I validate your point by stressing the importance of students practicing in the presence of an expert–the teacher. I then liken the teacher’s role to that of a head coach, with students serving as assistant coaches for classmates to consult with before reaching out to me. And with up to 35 students, and just one of me, I really needed the help.

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