Emerson

Scaffolding and Organizing Jigsaw Discussions

I’ve been experimenting this semester with different ways of encouraging meaningful academic talk between and among students.  I think giving students opportunities to engage in meaning making for themselves is important at all levels, and after reading Cris Tovani’s wonderful No More Telling as Teaching, I have been more intentional about ways to help students have opportunities to talk and share that help their growth and support that of others.  Some students relish these opportunities; others do not  always embrace them as joyfully.  There is also the challenge of helping students find the sweet spot of discussion and talk with others where the conversation stays on track and students don’t overtalk or undertalk with each other.

While my Honors students tend to be stronger with class discussions than my other sections, I try to give all my classes these learning experiences.  However, even my upper level classes sometimes struggle or get in a rut.    Last Friday, I decided to do a jigsaw discussion with one of my 11th Honors ELA classes in order to try to shake things up a little and incorporate more individual accountability for participation and contributions to a small group discussion.  On Wednesday, students took a grade level performance final exam; after the exam, they had class time to read an excerpt of “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson.  They were asked to complete summaries of each section and to answer seven short answer questions by the beginning of the next class on Friday.

When students arrived, they could choose a seat anywhere.  I had desks arranged into four groups of seven and one seating cluster of four desks.  Once students were seated, I passed out numbered task cards so that we formed “birds of feather” clusters.  Students could move anywhere in the room to work with their fellow assigned task card group members and collaborate on answers to the questions on the task card for about 20 minutes.  For example, if you received Task Card 2, you met up and worked with fellow Task Card 2 recipients.

Students then broke for lunch; when they returned, we organized ourselves at the seating areas so that someone from each group–Task Cards 1-7–was represented.    They took about 5 minutes to follow these organizational instructions:

We then reviewed the procedures for the jigsaw discussion:

Students then had about 20 or so minutes to participate in the discussions and take notes on what each other had to say.  In spite of growing excitement about a possible early release due to snow, most students stayed on task and made a good faith effort to participate and contribute.

When students finished, they were asked to create a poster based on their discussions and collaborative thinking:

Students then were asked to turn in their task card work plus their jigsaw discussion notes.  Their individual assignment for homework was to compose a paragraph and choose the transcendentalist theme they felt the selection best represented and why; they were asked to provide at least two examples of textual evidence and accompanying commentary to support their response.

What are your favorite small and large group discussion strategies?  How do you scaffold student talk?  How do you nudge those who are reluctant or less than enthusiastic about participating?

Recommended Reading:

Introducing Students to Ralph Waldo Emerson with Gallery Walks, Notebook Time, and Speed Dating Discussions

We are coming down the home stretch of the semester in a fast and furious manner.  Because time is limited, I am being selective in the pieces of literature I want my juniors to read as we explore the key transcendentalist writers in American literature.  I first introduced students to Emerson with a gallery walk that invited students to read, reflect, and interpret 20 different quotes from Emerson.  Students had the opportunity to record their noticings about the quotes and what they felt the quotes meant; they also were asked to record themes of importance on their graphic organizer (a menu of themes was provided).  We did the gallery walk in the hallways just outside of my classroom:

Once students had completed the gallery walk, we used notebook time to record patterns of noticings and reflections on the quotes we read.  Some classes did this indoors with a nature video playing on the board (thank you YouTube), but the weather was nice enough last Tuesday for me to take one class of juniors outdoors for our writing time:

When we returned inside, students had the opportunity to read an excerpt of the first chapter of Nature, annotate that text, and do some quick notes on a graphic organizer to prepare for the upcoming next class session and our class discussion about the text.

Because we are on a modified block schedule, my classes meet either T/Th or on Wed./Fri.  For the second class session, I originally planned on doing a concentric circles discussion to help students engage in meaning making about the text.  However, after my first two classes, I realized that format wasn’t quite working, so I punted on Thursday during my planning period.  I rearranged the desks in my room and organized the students into “speed dating” interview/discussion groups.  This version of the activity (which I learned years ago from Dr. Bob Fecho at UGA) basically was accomplishing the same goal as concentric circles, but it worked MUCH better for my remaining three classes on Thursday and Friday.  I threw out questions based on the text, their gallery walk, and their writer’s notebook responses; while some students did not engage in discussion as much as I hoped, many really got into the activity and got as much out of the learning experience as they put into it.  Students were required to take notes during the discussion so that they could capture the ideas of their discussion partners.

When students finished, they began working on four post-activity reflection questions that asked them to not only reflect on the text itself and its connections to principles of transcendentalism, but they were also asked to reflect on their understandings they gained from the activity as well as their best discussion partner.

Because we had to give a performance final exam the first three days of this week, we will use the last two days of this week to bring it all together and share out our key ideas and understandings.  Though I had to do some fine tuning in progress and not all students engaged with the activities, those who did shared how much they enjoyed everything and how the learning activities connected and built upon each other.  I would definitely introduce Emerson in this manner again in the future, and I love the simplicity yet power of student talk and thinking instead of me being the “sage on stage” doing all the work and thinking for them.  Some students are not used to these activities and push back because it is easier to be lectured to and to answer some low level  thinking questions on a worksheet.  I’ll continue to encourage those reluctant to engage in critical thinking as well as those who love engaging in higher level conversation and meaning making with unfamiliar and challenging texts.