Interdependence and Authentic Tasks
Sixth-grade teacher, Mary E. Castle Elementary School, MSD Lawrence Township, Indiana
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.
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!