Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum
Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum
Teachers often use small peer group discussions in response-based literature study. Sometimes these groups take the form of literature circles, but they can also be less formally structured and more spontaneously implemented. To use this technique, teachers should divide students into small groups (from three to six students) and give them a common task or text to tackle. Teacher Alfredo Lujan demonstrates this in his classroom when he has his students interview one another about the poems they have read. The task might involve a similar interviewing process, or it might revolve around solving a problem together or determining something about a text.
As students work, the teacher should circulate around the room, helping individual groups, redirecting them where necessary, and generally ensuring that they are on task. At the end of the work time, teachers should schedule a few minutes for a report from each small group. Reporting is often limited to something as simple as: "Tell the class which lines you decided to pick from the text." This might be done orally or, if there is a great deal of information that needs to be recorded, on large sheets of paper that can be posted where the rest of the class can read them.
A variation on small peer group discussions, one in which students also write together, is known as "inkshedding." To inkshed, the teacher should give the whole class a short, common writing assignment, whether a response to literature or a piece of personal writing. Students then bring their writing to the group and pass it to the person next to them in a clockwise direction. Each student then reads the writing and writes comments on it. The group continues to pass the writing around the circle, reading and commenting -- or commenting on the comments -- until each piece has gone full-circle, at which point the original writer reads the comments. The small group might then discuss the pieces they wrote.
As Lujan observes, small peer group discussions often "bounce," meaning the interview process transitions into lively dialogue. In an intimate group, students are more apt to open up and take risks than in a whole-class setting. They are also more likely to use their own language to begin solving a problem or tackling a text. Having a peer "explain" a text is often more helpful to a struggling student than an adult's explanation.