Mistake #668: I Said It, So They Learned It

I know it’s a classic teacher mistake (one of Tom Sallee’s Two Lies of Teaching) to think that anything the teacher says will be learned by the students. I want to explain, though, what I learned from a specific example of making this mistake.

When I returned to the classroom after going back to grad school, I thought I knew everything. I had learned so much and I was excited to implement what I had learned. One of my biggest areas of growth came in my implementation of Complex Instruction in place of the basic groupwork I had done prior to grad school. So on the second day of school, I spent nearly the full class delineating the group roles we’d be using for the year, outlining the desired qualities I wanted in group member, and laying out expected group norms. It was the first time I had ever used a slideshow in the classroom and I spent way too long choosing the theme/font/colors for my 20+ slide onslaught.

In hindsight, it seems foolish to think students would learn and retain 20+ slides packed with information, but I think that underscores an even bigger mistake I made. I didn’t realize it until later in the year, but during that first year back in the classroom, the groupwork in my class was not nearly as effective as it is now–and it was my fault. Dumping all that information on students on the second day of school (when they’re still trying to scope out who’s cute and what’s up with Oscar’s hair) and expecting them to remember it later in the year is silly.

After reflecting about what went wrong, I made changes the next year and decided to spread out the setup of groups over the course of three classes instead of one:

Day 2: Group Roles
Day 3: Group Member Qualities (see below)
Day 4: Group Norms

Even though there were many more mistakes to come (spoiler alert: how can students on Day 86 remember what they learned on Day 4), I felt like the students had a much better understanding–at least initially–of how I wanted them to work in groups.

I can’t remember where I got the following group member qualities, but I’m pretty sure it was from some IMP teacher:

Group Member Qualities

A skillful group member…

  • Fulfills their group role & stays on task
  • Explains ideas
  • Puts ideas together
  • Requests or provides information
  • Asks if everyone is ready to decide what to do

An especially skillful group member…

  • Asks quiet group members what they think
  • Listens with interest to what other people say
  • Praises good ideas and suggestions
  • Is willing to compromise
  • Is concerned with understanding the problem, not just getting the answer
  • Challenges others in a respectful way when there is disagreement

A destructive group member…

  • Talks too much
  • Listens very little
  • Insists on having his or her ideas accepted
  • Fails to do something about the destructive behavior of others
  • Criticizes people rather than their ideas
  • Lets other people do all the work
  • Is impatient or sarcastic with questions that may seem too obvious
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