How do you assign partners?

Discussion in 'General Education' started by Ms.Holyoke, Mar 3, 2018.

  1. Ms.Holyoke

    Ms.Holyoke Habitué

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    My mentor and I have been starting to do partner work in math. It is going very well but assigning partners is always challenging. Sometimes we let students choose whether they work independently or together, but we don't always like doing this. We sometimes do stations and assigning partners is easy because everyone gets credit for their own work. So even if one person does not do any work, they aren't penalized.

    Firstly, I am confused about whether I should assign similar ability partners or different ability partners. If we differentiate the assignment (which I am doing on Monday--3 versions of a card sort), then I feel like I need similar ability partners. But I also heard that this is not good for students?

    We do have a few special case students that prefer working independently. They have other issues and do better independently, and we are ok with making this exception for them. (Ex. a very low student who gets frustrated easily when he feels that his partner doesn't help him and ends up extremely frustrated and wanting to work alone, a student who an emotional disorder who walks out of class regularly etc.)

    The main issue is a few special case students who might not want to work independently:
    -A student who is very, very low. We have many students on IEPs, but she is our lowest student. She does try and wants to do well, but she really should not be in the class. I have another student that I could partner with her (also low), but they don't like to be partnered together and the second student often doesn't do any work all class. There is no one else that could work with these two girls without being brought down or doing all the work. I have a medium-high kid who would like to work with the second girl because they're friends, but it would honestly end up bringing her down. The medium-high kid has a D in the class and I know that she would do better on this with a different partner. My college always tells us not to ability group, but I would feel bad assigning most students to partner with these girls.
    -Another student who does no work during class---we never know which version of him will show up. He would need an adult to sit with him and his partner to work effectively. He usually does no work during class. :(
    -We also have another student who likes to sit with people, but does no work. When I say, "pick your partners", he picks a high student who he is friends with. They work next to each other, but the high student does his own work and this kid does nothing unless he has prompting every.single.second. So he never gets credit for the work he does with his "partner."

    Because we are middle school, we have been doing boy-boy partners and girl-girl partners. I really don't want to rock the boat on this!! But this just reduces the number of options I have for partners.

    My activity on Monday is one that would work much better with partners for the majority of kids. But what do I do about the other kids? Is it ok to tell them that they need to work independently? (I am also planning on talking to my mentor about this tomorrow before my lesson on Monday.)
     
    Last edited: Mar 3, 2018
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  3. otterpop

    otterpop Aficionado

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    Mar 3, 2018

    Can you assign partners and then have a few students sit in a group at a back table with you?
     
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  4. Ms.Holyoke

    Ms.Holyoke Habitué

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    I unfortunately need to be circulating at all times to help students and manage behavior. I could ask my mentor if she would be willing to sit with a small group. I partnered the two low girls together for stations and she basically ended up following them around. Is this ok to do though?
     
  5. Tulipteacher

    Tulipteacher Rookie

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    I much prefer assigning groups of 3 rather than pairs. That way one student doesn't get stuck with the really low student or the student who doesn't do his share.

    I also always give the option of working alone unless working together is part of the purpose of the assignment. If you have a trio and one decides to work alone, you still have a duo that can work together.
     
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  6. miss-m

    miss-m Habitué

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    I think this would be the most effective way to help your lowest students. They are usually the ones who need that extra instruction anyway, so working with you or your mentor teacher would be beneficial for them.
     
  7. 2ndTimeAround

    2ndTimeAround Phenom

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    It depends upon your goal for the day. And the feel of the class.

    Sometimes I group randomly. Sometimes I ability group. Sometimes I group according to effort. Sometimes I allow students to pick their own partners. Rarely do I group with high/low pairings. I was the high kid that was always "stuck" with low kids and felt resentful. Resentful that I couldn't work at my own pace, that I was expected to do the teachers' job and teach the other kid, resentful that I ended up doing most of the work and the other kid got a good grade because of me. If I do mixed abilities it is in a group, not a pairing. That way it is more like collaboration and less like tutoring. I will randomly call on an individual from each group and that individual must be prepared to answer the question on his own. This makes sure that we have collaboration and no one is slacking off.

    Whomever is telling you that ability grouping is bad is dead wrong.
     
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  8. Ms.Holyoke

    Ms.Holyoke Habitué

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    We have many, many high needs kids in the class, but we do end up working with the low kids who are willing to try. However, all of our kids need some type of check-ins/feedback during class. The kids that I described are very time consuming to work with and sitting with them would mean that the other kids go without, because they aren't our only low kids and I feel like the other kids need attention too.

    Do most people just put the very low students/students who do no work together?
     
  9. Obadiah

    Obadiah Devotee

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    I prefer, in this type of situation, grouping higher performing students with lower performing students. It would be awkward to change procedures midyear, but personally I would also recommend avoiding grouping by gender. A class that adapts to viewing itself as one group of students is more cohesive than a class that views itself as separate and divided groups (such as boys and girls). The students who are not working are probably not lazy; they might be confused, have a hidden learning difference, or experiencing another hindrance to completing classwork.

    To encourage partner participation rather than isolated independents, I find it helpful to circulate around the room with a clipboard to scribble quick notes to discuss after the project as needed, especially proficient cooperative procedures. When I spy a group that needs more cooperation, I might encourage the partners to talk by scaffolding questions to each participant. Jo Boaler's writings can help a teacher steer toward math challenges that require ideas from all the participants, not just one student rushing to finish a paper. Another idea--real life story problems can encourage lower students to participate in discussion when they allude to similar situations in their own experiences. The goal of cooperative learning is to develop metacognitive learning; as the lower students start to catch on, their brain develops connections to begin bringing them up to where the rest of the class is. They don't always reach the top level, but they move further ahead than they would if they were left by themselves to sink or swim.
     
  10. TrademarkTer

    TrademarkTer Devotee

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    I think this type of grouping is generally unfair to the higher performing students, and their needs. They should not just be there to tutor or mentor their weaker peers. Once in a rare while, that type of grouping can be OK, but you are going to breed resentment from the higher performers this way. I agree with the remarks about gender though!!
     
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  11. Teacher234

    Teacher234 Comrade

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    I look at class roster and since there is always an even number of students in my class......I say student 1 goes with student 2. It makes it quite simple.
    As far as small group instruction goes, I go by grade-level. As far as partner work goes, I go by my class roster and provide more help to some partners more than others.
    I have just come to a realization that I do not use ability grouping.
     
  12. Obadiah

    Obadiah Devotee

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    Mar 4, 2018

    That is the other school of thought on this matter, and I certainly respect that opinion. I've even heard an argument, given from a parent's perspective, that if their student is wasting time tutoring other students then their student should receive part of the teacher's salary.

    If I might further my ideas on mixed ability grouping, I do think care needs to be taken that it does not become a situation where the teacher is dependent on certain students to transform into extra teachers or that certain students feel belittled under their faster performing peers. Colloquially, and I believe tragically, through the eyes of students and even parents, a typical classroom sometimes is divided into the smart kids, the average kids, and the dummies. In math especially, the lower performing students often excuse themselves by saying, "I stink at math." Philosophically, and backed up by current research, with the exception maybe of some mainstreamed students, every student is capable of meeting the objectives, and no students (not even mainstreamed students) are "dummies".

    Sharing learned abilities with another person is a normal trait among all ages of students, even among adults. It is also an important part of the learning process, verbalizing or demonstrating to another person what one has learned. This further reorganizes and cements learning in both students brains. The key in the classroom is to encourage students to work together at a project; it's not a mentoring situation, but a cooperative situation. In other words, it's not an "I'm better than you" encounter but a "We're in this together" experience.

    Personally, I fear that we often over exalt the faster student over the seemingly slower students. All students learn by adjusting or adding to previous learning. In any given objective, some students will adjust their learning quickly, seemingly instantaneously. Other students will make errors in their attempts at adjusting to the new learning or will forget aspects of the learning. This is normal and an essential ingredient in all students' learning, even the ones who do so quickly. Forgetting is not failure. Forgetting is how the brain strengthens the "insulation" (myelin) surrounding the "wire" of a specific ability; once recalled the physical chemical insulation basically patches the leak. The more one recalls information the more strongly it is learned; (again, this occurs in all students within the mixed ability grouping. For the faster student, discovering ways to explain one's ideas causes this strengthening of insulation). In math, errors in calculation are not totally wrong, but they are applications of what was learned which need further adjustment; this again is an essential process of learning for all students: forming connections in the brain. The faster students' brains are also forming these new connections by observing and interacting with their partners' errors, learning more about what doesn't work or why it doesn't work, (an especially important concept in math which will lead to further application in more complex math).

    To summarize, all members of a mixed ability cooperative group greatly benefit. I do feel that some students who consistently fall behind in meeting taught objectives are students who have been displaced early in their classroom experiences, in the case of middle school, this could have occurred as early as Kindergarten. In my mind, I picture these students as falling off of the wagon and running behind desperately trying to catch up. Some even give up trying. Yet they are just as capable as the rest of the class. Their brains might work differently, but all brains work differently. I heard a neuroscientist just yesterday on Ted Talks mention how the brain is the most complicated organism we know of. I'm thinking right now, how tragic it would be if all brains worked the same. I tend to ubiquitously refer to Einstein, but he was by no means in the math wagon in elementary school, but without his brain differences, I would probably not be able to communicate on this forum via the Internet. How many little Einsteins are still running behind the wagon? Why not stop the wagon a minute and let them in?
     
  13. Ms.Holyoke

    Ms.Holyoke Habitué

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    I agree that these kids I described are not lazy. There are other issues in play but we have so many kids that need attention that we can't sit with one kid the whole period. We have many low kids (one class is half sped and 3 of the students I described aren't even on an IEP) so it's hard to always meet the needs of kids who need this type of attention.

    My mentor prefers partners to groups of 3 so that all students are sharing the work. I agree that for this particular activity, partners are best. (Students are matching distance-time graphs to stories.) I learned a lot about cooperative learning and I feel like it requires a lot of structures in place. I am also differentiating the task (some kids match 4 cards, most kids match 6 cards, and some kids match 10 cards). Therefore, I feel like leveled partners will work best for this. I also just feel guilty because I know the research you are talking about, I just fail to see how it would work with these particular kiddos. I have done medium-low partners and high-medium partners which have worked well when kids have the ability to focus on the task and try for the entire period. With the exception of my extremely low student, these other kids do not and I feel like it would be frustrating for anyone to work with them. Ideally, I would love to have mixed ability partners where all kids are learning. I'm talking to my mentor today about these kids to ask her opinion.
     
  14. CherryOak

    CherryOak Companion

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    Don't feel guilty. Grouping based on differentiated materials is sometimes necessary if the work is so similar the more structured versions would undermine the challenging ones. So, it could depend on the materials. If I read it correctly, one of your questions asks if it's okay to pull some for a teacher directed group while others work in pairs. My take on that has always been yes. We teach individuals and we should try to do what is best for each student to learn. It's okay for each student's experience in class to be different. Just like it's okay to hand them differentiated materials. Otherwise, I sometimes just like the beauty of random chance. Even as a sub, I have a "class" with numbers as names in class dojo and I use the grouping feature. It creates variation.
     
  15. Ms.Holyoke

    Ms.Holyoke Habitué

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    That makes sense! I feel like it is sometimes easier to differentiate the task, but I will also look for ways to make activities challenging for all students so they can work together.
     
  16. mathmagic

    mathmagic Enthusiast

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    Flexible, you're right. I think some get caught up with assuming it means the grouping is static, which then isn't really the best move. But when used flexibly and mixed in with other strategies, I agree wholeheartedly! My students have four "compass partners" that I based on a quasi-ZPD of literacy (for two of them) and math (for the other two). They change a few times a year, but even with that, I'll be pulling a small group for a subject that I know a certain group of kids struggle on. Sometimes they'll choose their own partnerships or even choose to work independently. Sometimes I'll veto their decision, and others I may look at a partnership that I don't think would usually work, and give them the benefit of the doubt, and find that they grow from that opportunity.

    It always goes back to the magical word in education: flexibility!
     
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  17. Obadiah

    Obadiah Devotee

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    I enjoy discussing my posts with my mother, and after our discussion yesterday, I began debating with myself what I had said. I suppose the nice thing about a debate with one's self is that I always win the argument. (Although I guess at the same time, I always lose). :) Anyway, concerning student abilities in the classroom, I feel I was a bit one sided in my comments of what can hinder progress.

    Concerning nature versus nurture in educational development, I tend to fall mostly into the camp that looks for environmental factors, (although, as Steven Pinker points out, DNA does play an important role). But school experience is not the only environmental factor effecting learning ability. Experience outside of school (such as parental interaction), nutrition, health, etc. beginning at birth are all contributing factors.

    I've found that research needs to be understood as a general explanation of what works best in the average classroom, but in reality, there is no such thing as an average classroom. No classroom is a random sample of students. Sometimes lessons need to be, well, actually, often lessons need to be tweaked to match particular student(s).
     
  18. ssgirl11

    ssgirl11 Companion

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    I usually try and group my kids according to their ability: eithter mixed-ability or similar ability. I have used MAP scores in the past, but personal knowledge of the kids works for me the best.

    Recently, I wanted to change things up, so I grouped students with people that never seem to interact much. Their cooperation was actually good (with a few exceptions) because they weren't as comfortable with their groups, and build relationships they they may not have otherwise. Interesting experiment socially, but I won't be doing this all the time.
     
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  19. Been There

    Been There Habitué

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    This is somewhat tangential, but as a special ed. teacher, I often assigned partners based on who I thought could potentially benefit from each other. I once matched a second grade girl with ASD who was reading at the 5th grade level with a shy sixth grade boy with 2nd grade reading skills. Not only was the girl able to experience helping someone to read (a first for her) while developing her social skills, but the socially-awkward boy was also able to experience reading success in a non-threatening situation - in addition, this unusual pairing was mutually beneficial to their self-esteem. While observing the way that they worked together, I could tell they were intuitively aware of and sensitive to the special needs of each other. Both students always looked forward to working with their new reading buddy!
     
    Last edited: Mar 8, 2018
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  20. ms.irene

    ms.irene Groupie

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    When I taught MS, I purposely paired girls with boys at times since I found there was less off-task behavior with this arrangement, depending on the kids in question. Grouping is all about knowing your students and what works best for them -- there's really no one-size-fits all answer, unfortunately!
     
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  21. Ms.Holyoke

    Ms.Holyoke Habitué

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    The groupings went well overall. I like the idea of groups of 3 for the low kids. I'm also trying to figure out how to build individual accountability for some groups where one person does most of the work. I noticed this happened in one group. Luckily, the majority of kids worked really well together!!
     
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