Wednesday, November 2, 2016

How does an introvert successfully collaborate?

If I were to give myself a teacher nickname I would be the "Queen of Collaboration".  I completely buy into the idea of using collaboration and student engagement activities to promote the learning of all students.  If you would walk into my classroom at any random time during the day there would be a good chance that you would walk in to see students discussing concepts together, working together or peer coaching each other. 

The juxtaposition is that I am a huge introvert.  I personally don't enjoy collaborating with others.  If I am asked to plan with my grade level team, I will, but truthfully, nothing really good comes out of it.  I just can't think straight when I have other people talking and lots of extra stimuli going on around me.  I do my best work alone, where I can think, and plan, and reflect without distractions.  I'm not saying that I don't listen or want the ideas of others, but I just am unable to assimilate their ideas into mine until I've had some quiet time to reflect on how to go about doing it. 

So that is the dilemma I am in.  Last night my son, who also is a huge introvert, and I were reading the book Quiet:  The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  The topic we were reading touched on how the classroom in the 21st Century highly subscribes and depends upon heavy collaboration and interaction in order to prepare students for their futures.  My son, who is an academically advanced GATE or gifted student told me that he hated collaboration times, and asked me if I insisted on them in my classroom.  That was when I realized that I didn't practice what I preached.  

I do completely believe in the power of collaboration.  The following picture is a common, every day occurrence in my classroom.  I believe in letting the students who have shown mastery in a subject benefit by "teaching" the students who have not yet learned the subject by having to organize their thoughts enough to be able to voice it logically to another.   I also believe that a student who does not yet get a lesson, will listen to their peer and value how their peer explains it, maybe even better than the teacher.  

So again the question my introverted son brought up, do I differentiate for introverts?   With all this collaborative discussions and student engagement going on in my classroom, where do my introverts stand?  What type of scaffolding and special attention and instruction do they receive?  If my son was in my classroom, would he be serviced adequately by me?  I realized sadly, that the answer was not really.  I do allow time to work individually during a five minute quick-write after an hour of high student engagement and collaborative activities.  I do allow 10 minutes of individual math work after and hour of direct instruction and peer coaching.  So no, my son would not be adequately serviced in my room.  

So that leads to some reflection and problem solving on my part.  I know that about half of my class has not learned the Common Core State Standards to mastery and I really feel that collaboration is the best strategy to reach all students.  But now I am also realizing that in addition to differentiating instruction for English, Special Education Students, GATE or Gifted Students, I should add introverts to the mix.   

Today I tried out a new strategy.  The class was reading a page from the Science book that we had really prepared well for.  Preparation is actually discussed in my previous blog posts "The Perfect English Language Lesson, Part 1-3".    Because of this preparation I felt comfortable giving the following instructions.  I told the students they could work with a partner, their team, or.... alone!  This seems simple, but if you knew me, it is revolutionary!  As I walked around to monitor, assist, and now observe this new class dynamic I had created, I noticed that four students chose to work alone.  As I checked their work, I saw that it was the same quality as the others who had chosen to work together.  

So for today, letting students choose to work alone or with someone was functional in fulfilling my Common Core Objectives.  I am still not fully convinced, even though I am an introvert and if I were in my classroom would also choose to work alone.  This is a subject that is worth more reflection and research.  I want to do what's best for my students and it seems like I have two strong educational philosophies playing tug of war for my attention.   If anyone has advice or comments I'd appreciate them!

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