Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Making Civics Real Workshop 8: Rights and Responsibilities of Students  
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Workshop 7

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Teacher Perspectives
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Teacher Perspectives: Cooperative learning

Matt Johnson: One of the difficulties in getting kids to work in groups is breaking down [the attitude that] “I'm just doing work for myself.” There's not a lot of group learning, perhaps, for some of these kids in the years before me. So I will give one person the role of the recorder, another person will have [another] particular duty. They have to work together. As time passes, I drop some of those formal roles and it's the end product that kids have to work on. I let them figure out how they're going to get there.

One of the things I've learned over the years is [that] you have to give each student an assignment. At least for seniors, I've found that if you don't, the burden falls on one or two kids in the group. My hope is you get kids to work together, but the finished product is an individual assignment. Otherwise, there's no incentive to work for some kids. It sounds terrible to say, but there are students who will just shirk their responsibility on to somebody else.

Letting go in the classroom is at first difficult. When I first began teaching, I guess I was somewhat trained not to let go. If you let go, management becomes a problem, but I found that [being in charge] was a lot more work. I'm not saying I'm lazy, but it was always me [saying], “You guys have got to listen to me, listen, listen, listen.” Kids don't always want to listen--they want to get their hands dirty. They want to get into the material. If you give them something meaningful to do and you say there are repercussions for not doing it--you have to give grades--it's not that hard. In fact, to me, it looks like I'm only teaching 10 kids when you have 10 groups as opposed to 30 kids. I think putting kids in groups really makes management easier and it's really more fun. I know those 30 kids from putting them in groups. If I just looked at them like one block of kids, I would never break down any real walls between me and them.

Giving kids a lot of independence and ownership puts more responsibility on them. There are too many classrooms where I'm responsible for the message; they're responsible for taking down my thoughts. That is too reactionary. They are just following what I say. I'd rather have them explore and work with the material. I find that these kids, especially, are very creative. If you give them the opportunity to show you what they can do, the sky is the limit. If I gave them everything they needed to produce, I'm just patting myself on the back.


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