Diary of a Not So Wimpy Teacher: Peer Collaboration

Peer Collaboration

Welcome back for chapter three of our book study. This book is quickly becoming one of my favorite professional books! I am not a wimpy teacher. When I tell my teammates what I am doing in the classroom, they usually think I am crazy and wish me luck. But this book is certainly stretching me to consider new ideas and strategies! This chapter is no exception. Let's talk about collaboration...

I won't lie. This is the section of the book (so far) that scared me the most! I actually put the book down for a day just so I could really think and reflect about this one. Solarz empowers his students to lead by giving them permission to use the class attention getter. When the student uses the attention getter, even the teacher freezes and gives the student their attention. YIKES! I instantly started envisioning an entire day of students trying to overpower one another with "Class! Class!" How will we get through any learning? Seemed too crazy for me. But then I talked myself off the ledge...

I remembered the time a super quiet little girl came and informed me that I had copied the homework wrong and it had the same activity on both sides. I called the class and informed them. Why didn't I empower the sweet girl who made the discovery to tell the class?

I thought about the times that the class gets to noisy and kids start Shhhhing. Wouldn't it be more effective if they called the class and encouraged them to lower their volume?

What about the time when a struggling math student discovered the distributive property BEFORE I taught it? I called the class and shared his strategy. I complimented him and gave him credit. But wouldn't it have been more meaningful if I had encouraged him to call the class and share?

I decided to be crazy and I WILL empower my kids to use the attention getter this coming year. I just need to train them well and reward positive uses of the privilege. Wish me luck!

Thank goodness the next section of the chapter was less frightening! Solarz talks a bit about furniture that promotes collaboration. The good news is that you don't need anything fancy! All you really need is a table or two and desks that are placed in groups. I have that!

Solarz also writes about letting his students work anywhere that they are comfortable. I am fairly good with this. During math and reading you will find kids on the floor, on the pillows, on stools, at the table and at desks. They can pick where to work for all of their centers except technology. I just don't think it would be safe to have our Chromebooks on the floor.

The area  that I need to get better with this is during writers' workshop. When I first started teaching, I was told that students must sit at desks when writing because the better posture will help their handwriting. So we have our mini lesson on the carpet and then I send them back to their desks to write. This tends to be the time where I have kids off task. I got to thinking...Am I more concerned about handwriting or creativity and productivity? Obviously I want them to WRITE! I am not as creative or engaged when I have to write sitting at my desk. I prefer to cuddle up on the couch. Maybe my kids will write better if they are comfortable! Light bulb! Next year, I will allow my kids to write anywhere they feel comfortable. I will only encourage them to sit in a desk when working on final drafts. Good compromise!

I use whole brain teaching in my classroom and students are constantly teaching and working with a partner. At the beginning of the year, I teach them to just use their shoulder partner. But soon, I will start calling the teach-okay when they are on the carpet or in a center rotation. They quickly learn to just work with whoever is closest.

I love how Solarz calls them responsibility partners. They are taught that they are responsible for one another. If one partner is off task, they are both responsible! So students are given some strategies to help keep their partners on task. Brilliant! I will be adding this component to my shoulder partners next year.

I loved this section! How many times does a kid come up to you and tattle? "Bob won't share." "Suzzy isn't helping."  I teach them the difference between tattling and reporting, but that only goes a little ways in stopping the whining. I want my students to learn to deal with conflict on their own because that is an essential life skill. (And if we are being honest- a lot of adults lack this important skill!)

Solarz's strategies are super simple:
  1. Rock-Paper-Scissors: This is perfect of those times when students argue over who should do what, what color they should use, etc. A simple round of paper-rock-scissors can solve these disputes. Obviously, they need training at the start of the year. I wonder how often they fight over whether someone cheated.... And will they purposely get into conflicts because they like to play paper-rock-scissors? We'll see!
  2. Compromise: Students mix their ideas to make one plan. 
  3. Choose Kind: This is my favorite! Sometimes you don't get your way! Do what the other person wants, because even though it wasn't your idea, it is still a good idea. 
I plan to teach these strategies at the start of the year. I will model them for students and then have students practice. When I see students using one of these strategies  to resolve conflict, I will be giving praise and positive reenforcement!

I made these posters to remind my students about the strategies they can use to solve their own differences. You can click on the picture to grab them for FREE!

While telling a story about how he teaches his students active and passive leadership, Solarz mentions that at the end of every day his students collaboratively write a class goal for the next day. WHAT?! That is brilliant! I really want to find a way to squeeze that in to our end of day routine! I am curious as to how you teach students to write goals. I feel like my third graders would just write things like "We will be good" or "We will be quieter." If anyone has any experience with this- please comment!