Cooperative learning is a great deal more than just working in groups. It is a whole array of techniques to assure that students learn from one another, motivate one another, and learn to work together.
He arranged his groups so each would have one good reader. When he ran out of really good readers, he chose Lauren Turner and Rosa Alvarez for the last two groups. Then he chose one poor reader for each group and filled in the rest with children of middling abilities.
The children knew none of this. To them they were simply in groups.
The presenters at the cooperative learning conference had given Neil a load of papers to read. He worked through them over the Christmas vacation, rearranged his room, and made himself as ready as he could be to begin the new technique. It looked like a good way to teach some things. He could take a literature book for children, say Island of the Blue Dolphins, and with groups he could see to it that all the children fully understood everything that happened in the book, reacted to it, and made it a part of their lives.
But — and this was the critical problem — the non-readers and poor readers would be little closer to reading independently than when they started.
There was nothing Neil could do about that.
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Since the Christmas holidays had not started until the twenty-fourth, they lasted well into January. On Monday the ninth the children returned, cranky and unwilling to go back to work. They found the desks moved and set about looking for their own.
“Hey, what’s with the desks?” Flavio asked. “I’m up front. That’s cheap!”
“Mr. McCrae, can I move? I don’t like it here,” Carlos said.
“I don’t want to sit by a girl,” Greg complained.
“Well, its better than us having to sit by a boy!” Dixie replied.
When these children had come to Neil’s room in August, they had not dared to complain about where they were seated. Now that they knew him, they hoped to sway him into putting them next to their friends. Their complaints were in vain.
Only Lauren and Lydia were happy. They were back together for the first time since Neil had discovered Lauren prompting Lydia.
Neil read the introduction and about half of the first chapter of Fog Magic aloud. It included a description of the main character’s home village. Afterward, he told the class that each group was to write a description of their classroom, and he explained how they were to go about it. First, they were to list as many words as they could think of that would describe the room. Then they were to choose the ten which best described it.
It was an insipid exercise. Neil hesitated to use it, but the presenters had assured him that even this would be too hard for some groups at the beginning. He didn’t want to believe it.
As he wandered around the room watching the children work, his education as a teacher really began.
Not one of the students he had tagged as slow had anything to contribute. He watched Pedro Velasquez. First Pedro had been disinterested, then he had looked worried when he thought he was going to have to participate. But when Tanya Michelson said, “Big, green, crowded, full-of-desks, hot, cold, neat, yucky . . .”, and would have rolled on forever if Casey and Olivia had not forced her to listen to two or three of their suggestions, Pedro relaxed again and sat back to do nothing. As usual.
Pedro thought this group stuff was going to be easy.
Neil thought, “Not if I can help it.” more tomorrow