*Today’s names have been changed to protect the innocent.”
“OK class, I want you to answer these five discussion questions based on the story you were to read yesterday. The answers must be written in complete sentences and are due by the end of the class period. You may work with a study buddy, and each one of you must write your own answers on your own paper.” Thus, with these directions we begin the mini-social hour in English class, and I enjoy the entertainment of having students work in small groups.
Why is it entertainment? As soon as I say the words “study buddy” or “partner work,” faces light up as if it is Christmas morning or walking into the Magic Kingdom for the first time. This day, I let the kids pick their partners. Some students look around for someone who is smart or consistently does his/her homework. Some students only look for their friend, even if they know he/she never does the work. After all, socializing is sometimes more important than good grades.
Now begins my fun! I give each pair of students a set of questions, and I walk around the room to observe. Soon, one pair of students has trouble with a question, so they ask someone from another pair for the answer. It takes the kids a couple of minutes to realize I gave each pair different questions. Unfortunately for Bo and Mo, the two who never read, they never do catch on. They just copy from someone else and think they have gotten away with something. (I really think one of them will move to Florida and make the news for trying to use an alligator to rob the donut shop next to the police station.)
Another pair, Dotty and Marie, chooses to work together because they are best friends. They know everything about each other; for example, what the other had for dinner last night, who was texting whom, their latest Facebook status, and what time they arrived at school. What they have not figured out is that they have a combined class average of 47%. Even the worst weather forecaster could predict what happens next: they begin to struggle with the questions. Before their brains fry with too much thinking, they move on to a discussion on boys, clothes, and, of course, the behavior of other girls. If they are lucky these two ladies will have a gossip radio show or be on some reality show that promotes drama.
I noticed Zeke and Chloe whispering and writing responses furiously. I moved closer and listened in. This pair had read the assignment, was discussing possible answers (the questions were open-ended and allowed for opinions and no right or wrong answer), and writing their own responses. It was terrific to see intelligent conversation taking place.
I could have given this assignment as a quiz or open book writing assignment. However, part of our curriculum requires class participation. Like I do for all assignments, I began with the question: “How am I evaluating this?” So, for this assignment, I decided that I would be grading the responses as one grade and the class participation as another grade.
As I walked around the room, I kept notes on the pairs of kids. Of course, whenever I was next to a pair, the kids would be on task. I knew this would happen, so I would focus on listening and reading lips of the kids who were across the room. After all, no one is ever off task when the boss is around. Since a few of my students read this blog, they will be on to my trick. Oh well.