Friday, June 28, 2013

Benefits of Collaborative Teaching #2 - The Dance of Critical Mass

One of the best things about collaborative teaching, in our opinion, is what we like to call "The Dance of Critical Mass". Have you ever experienced the frustration of having most of your students finished with an activity or an assignment, but there a still a few stragglers who are not quite through? Now we're not talking about those little beans who stalled or chit-chatted or generally wasted their work time; we're talking about those kids who need more think time, who work a bit more slowly, and perhaps methodically, than their peers, who are truly focused and putting their best effort forward but at their own laborious unique pace. Every class has kids like that - and their needs become diametrically opposed to the "zoomers", the kids that plow through everything and are ready for more ... more ... more ... next ... next ... next.

When we were teaching alone, we continuously faced a conundrum - do we hold up the class until everyone is finished, allowing for as much work time as needed for each child OR do we move the class on when most of the children have finished, creating an environment of perpetual unfinished work for our "stragglers"? It was always frustrating to have to choose, to have to suppress the needs of the few in order to meet the needs of the many, BUT then we realized ... working together, we no longer had to choose!

So what is this mythical "Dance of Critical Mass" you are now wondering? Well, sit back and relax while we perform:

Our dance begins in a classroom, just at the close of a dynamic and riveting writing mini-lesson in which the students are filled with inspiration and the insatiable need to complete their writing assignment. Their eyes aglow with ideas and their fingers itching to record their thoughts, they surge off the rug and find little workspace nooks about the room where they can do their best work. The room is buzzing with the gentle sounds of productive work ....

WHAT? This sounds a bit fantastical. Well, it's our retelling so we can remember as we want, o-kay!! Anyway ...

Suddenly, a voice is heard above the noise of the classroom, "Teacher, I'm finished, what should I do now?" That lone voice quickly becomes a chorus, filling the room with an ever-rising cacophonous chant: "What should I do now? What should I do now? What should I do now?" As the music rises, the teachers survey the scene, "How many students need more time?" "Me! Me! Me!" softly rings out above the crowd and so the dance begins. One teacher waltzes the majority of the class on to a new activity or engages in a read aloud or guides a meaningful reflection, while the other teacher tangoes with each student - coaching, assisting, motivating. And so the Dance of Critical Mass.

Ok, so that was a little bit silly and we sure did stretch that dance metaphor to it's limits, but we get to have fun on our own blog, right?!? Goofiness aside, the technique is sound and satisfying. We get to engage the majority of our learners in a new activity where they benefit from explicit teacher direction, while we also get to support our "stragglers" in a smaller group setting where they benefit from individualized attention and, most importantly, enough time to finish their work. Now as a disclaimer, we still have children with unfinished work. Even in collaborative teaching where we have been able to find new and creative ways to maximize our schedule, we must still bow to the demands of having ... well ... a schedule. This is not a magic wand to wave away the frustrations of unfinished work (if only!), but it's something that has helped ameliorate the problem and so during the day when we inevitably have children that need more time ... we dance!

P.S. This is us dancing. You're welcome.

From the limb,

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