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Making Civics Real Workshop 4: Constitutional Convention  
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Workshop 4

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Teacher Perspectives: Creating groups

Matt Johnson: For this lesson, one of the first things that I sat down and thought of was how I was going to pair groups together. I think kids work extremely well in what you would call a mixed grouping--kids of different abilities, different strengths--so that's the very first step. Hopefully you're putting kids who can work well together and bring different things to each group. There's definitely some work one-on-one--the kids do have their own assignments--but they are working in a group sharing ideas and there's the larger issue of communicating ideas to both the small group and a larger group. When I'm trying to assign groups for an activity like this, especially at the end of the year, I have a pretty good feel for the type of student I'm dealing with and I'll try and mix things up by gender because I think that's important. Most of the groups are split about 50:50. The other thing I look for are leaders who are vocal students. [I] put [a] more vocal person in each group. [I] also split up the kids that I know are going to do the work. They're going to be focused [and] don't need a lot of teacher supervision. Then the kids who are more easily distracted divide, so hopefully you'll have some interesting and productive pairings going on.

To be successful in your groupings at the high school level--these are all seniors--you have to be careful that if you assign things as products, they don't fall on one student. I've learned through trial and error that kids come back and say, “You know, Mr. Johnson, I had to do all the work. So-and-so didn't do anything.” So one of the things that I try and do is make everyone responsible for their own version of the finished product. They can work together, they can collaborate, but when the day comes, they all [need to turn in] something finished. If there is a child who doesn't do the work, it hasn't fallen on anybody else's shoulders.

When you are grouping students, you should be conscious of mixing abilities and mixing personalities. In September or October, when you first begin this process, you may not have a real firm grasp of who’s what and what kind of kids will work well together so you do a random grouping and you keep an eye on it and you make notes to yourself [about] who’s working well together [and] who might be better suited in another group. You may even make some quick adjustments. Through monitoring and moving around, you'll find out who works together and who doesn't.


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