Interdependence and Authentic Tasks

Whitney Coake
Sixth-grade teacher, Mary E. Castle Elementary School, MSD Lawrence Township, Indiana

I started this school year, my second in a new district, attempting to fully and completely wrap my head around all the elements of the LSI model of learning in order to optimize my pedagogical practices. I started the year focused on finding and creating tasks that truly aligned with learning targets and searching for ways to ensure these tasks were cognitively complex. My professional focus was on my students owning learning and putting the success criteria in their hands. I was not focused on teaming.

I started this year thinking I already knew how to organize students for best learning. I grouped my students. I gave them individual roles. I had them working together. I had them being kind. I had them being helpful. After our first Rigor Walk, I was asked to be filmed with my students in teams to include in our slideshow for our next Leadership Academy. An instructional coach came in to film my class working in ‘teams’ the next day.

Two days after the filming, I’m sitting in the Leadership Academy. One of our tasks has us reading through the phases of Team Talk and discussing the various components within each phase. My stomach simply drops. I begin to realize what I thought was teaming was in fact nowhere close. What I assumed to be a teaming activity was not, and I had been filmed, and the film was being loaded onto our school’s slideshow to be shared with all.

The film showed my students being organized–not teaming. It showed exactly what I had done: I aligned a task, gave it to students, asked them to work on it in their intentionally assigned groups, gave each an individual role, and walked around and verified. The task was great, but there was no need for a team, no authentic interaction was required to complete the learning as I had set it up.

I had an epiphanic moment that day at Academy as I hate finding out I’ve misunderstood or performed improperly. I started to think about what I know of cognitive science and learning. I started to look at the way I planned differently in order to acknowledge and purposefully employ the power of the team. I started considering more of the layers of the cognitive processes that were required to accomplish a learning target. And with this, team roles became apparent.

When thinking about each learning objective, I started to consider the level of how an adult uses the particular learning targets. Once I made that shift, I started to really see all the different ways a mind has to think in order to accomplish a particular cognitive task. I began breaking down targets into these cognitive layers and assigning each layer of learning a particular team role so that students were steered into a particular mindset. I was able to create and structure more authentic tasks for the students to accomplish where they were each responsible for a layer of learning in order to create a whole–they were performing interdependently. They were working as a team. This created a very functional wave of interaction in the room.

After my creation of the teams and explanation of the roles, I was hands off. Each student would choose the role they felt they could best accomplish for their team. If someone was struggling within their chosen role, they had multiple options to find help. First, they could ask within their team. If that didn’t help, they knew to go to the other teams and find the person who shared the same role to collaborate. They would converge their minds and enhance each others’ thinking. They would then return back to their home team and share what they determined to be the correct path for complete understanding.

This somewhat wavelike procuring and dissemination of information started to happen so naturally. This flow of student led interaction was beyond what I could have hoped. It was beautifully seamless and monumentally effective. All students’ learning was enhanced and the results showed in the data. Cool!