Friday, October 29, 2010

Discussion Groups: Getting Started

Back when I decided to start some discussion groups this week, I had grand plans for how I would model the groups. I wanted to get teachers together, three or four of us, and record us having a real conversation about a book that was familiar to the students.

Well...this didn't happen! (It was hard enough for me to coordinate my own movements this week, let alone rope three people into a crazy scheme.) When it came time to model discussion groups, I decided to let some stuffed bears do the talking. Using Weslandia, which had been a read aloud from earlier in the week, I moved the bears around and used different voices to show how a discussion group should go. We talked about interesting questions versus non-interesting questions, polite ways to speak to each other, and how to invite others to participate.

It worked wonderfully! The kids loved watching the bears (and helpfully reminded me which voice went with which.) Even more importantly, the bears gave me a chance to show students some common problems with discussion groups. After we worked with the bears, we wrote down some rules for our discussion groups. I was faithful to what they put forward as rules they wanted everyone to follow.  Then, students returned to their seats to write down two questions to bring to their group meeting, I pulled Popsicle sticks to make the groups, and we jumped right in.

The groups did not go perfectly, but there were several interesting discussions. I heard good indicator comments--students said things like, "I never thought about it that way before." They all had questions to share, questions that went beyond the literal. It helped that we were reading The Magic Key, a story that I wrote. Students still had some questions about whether or not the key was magic and how the door opened.

After about eight minutes, I pulled students back together to talk about our experience. This is important in the early days of discussion groups--leave them wanting more. Students rated the experience on a scale of 0-5, with 5 being as much fun as a reading activity can be. Scores ranged from 3 to 5, and we talked about how the discussion groups are fun in a way that may be different from what they are used to.

The biggest surprise, though, came after we were finished. We had moved from the ten minutes of discussion groups and into some self-directed center time. Several girls asked me if they could borrow the bears. "We want to do another discussion group with them," they said. They pulled Don't Let the Pigeon Stay Up Late off the shelf, read it aloud to the bears, and then took turns using the bears to ask and answer questions. Fourth graders are just too cute!

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