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Beginning the Small Learning Communities

The students knew that something was about to change from the surveys, but when they walked into the classroom, all they knew was that the desks were arranged differently (like the diagram below) and that they were sitting at the desk where they found their name on a post-it.
I explained to the students why they were sitting in these new groups and how it would affect their class. I started off frankly by sharing with them that once a month when I am not here, I go to Columbia and meet with other teachers to share ideas and discuss changes we can make to improve our classes for our students. I told them that I knew that all of us wanted more group work, so we would work on this as a class.  I introduced the term Small Learning Community (SLC) and explained that each SLC would work together through discussions and tasks. I made sure to tell the class that their surveys had a big impact on the groupings, but that they should keep in mind that everyone’s choices counted. So, I said, if they were thinking, “Really, I didn’t pick to sit with her!” that maybe this student "chose to sit with you and felt that she could learn from one of your strengths."  I let the students know that they would sit with their SLC during English Language Arts from now on, but not during Social Studies, so that we could see how we work with different arrangements.  

Naming and Taking Responsibility for the SLCs

After I developed the SLC idea, my principal helped me brainstorm a plan of action to begin.  She gave me the idea to have each SLC name itself and to start the first week by having the students track their on-task vs. off-task behavior.  The students named their SLCs:
The All-Stars                  
Intelligent Bosses Team Legit                    
The Undecided 
I explained to the students that our goal was to begin thinking of our SLC as a community, so we would begin by noticing how we work right now, so we can eventualy increase the time we spend on task. The students were directed to track their SLC’s on-task vs. off-task behavior on post-its that looked like this:             
The students would add a tally whenever they felt inclined and whenever I prompted them by asking, “Take a look at your SLC. Are you on or are you off?”
This data collection method would not impress any researcher, but my goal was ultimately to have them start becoming aware of each other and their group dynamic. The students were generally honest about their tally mark decisions because there were no consequences for off task behavior. 

My Initial Observations

While the students were tracking their efficiency, I was observing the dynamicsl. I decided to see how they would work together by giving them no guidelines other than directing them at the start of class to have one person in their SLC read the Instructional Outcome (IO) and have a 2-3 minute discussion about their responses to the Do Now.  Here is what I found: