Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Pumpkin Season

Pumpkin Season!

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it’s Pumpkin Season. When I was a kid, we used to have pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving and maybe some pumpkin bread and that was that. But the world has changed. Now, we have pumpkin doughnuts, pumpkin spice lattes, pumpkin dip, Pumpkin Pie Oreos, Pumpkin Spice M&Ms, pumpkin pancakes and even pumpkin vodka(!?!). (I’m not sure how I feel about that last one...)

Things change and tasty trends get huge. It happens in the world of pumpkin-flavored foods and it happens in the world of education trends.

Remember when we used to do group-work instead of collaborative structures? Did these “collaborative structures” become the new “pumpkin” -- the literal flavor of the week? Wait, how long has this pumpkin flavor thing been crazy anyway? (2008? 09?) Wait, what's the difference between group work and collaborative structures, anyway?

Surprisingly, the difference is more than you might think! And this pumpkin trend is here for the foreseeable future, anyway. And so are collaborative structures.

Group work is exactly what you think it is - when kids kind of work together or talk together while they're working. Collaborative structures are when kids engage in a specific learning task with (duh) structures in place. I used a lot of group work in my classroom that I wish had been collaborative structures.

We all know that collaborative structures have to have certain characteristics and we’re not always sure what those characteristics are or how to make them successful.

Let’s look at what makes a collaborative structure. It takes pies, or, I mean, P.I.E.S. Pumpkin, if you prefer.... Or apple pie, if you’re sick of pumpkin everything....

PIES is an acronym to help us remember what collaborative structures are all about.
P- Positive Interdependence (each team member’s efforts are required and has a unique contribution)
I - Individual Accountability (each team member’s work will shape their grade)
E - Equal Participation (each team member has an equal contribution to the learning & product)
S - Simultaneous Interaction (each team member is working toward the goal at once  -- not just one at a time)

What does this look like, really?

For me, the easiest way to turn my group-work into collaborative structures is twofold:
  1. give every kid a specific job
  2. be clear on my behavior expectations

First, I require my students to “get a job”. This is not optional. They can choose within their groups who gets which role. None of these are earth shattering and they generally depend on the collaborative structure.

  • leader/editor
  • recorder/secretary
  • fact-checker/researcher
  • spokesperson/webmaster/press secretary
  • materials manager
  • facilitator/encourager
  • timekeeper
  • summarizer
  • elaborator
  • quality control manager
  • runner (between groups)

I recently did a collaborative activity with a colleague. First period, I had forgotten the roles ( I was dragging that morning) and the activity went okay. During second period, I remembered the roles and the activity went sooo much more smoothly -- and the kids “got it” better that period!

Now, if you only have three kids per group then find the most important roles and make sure every group has the same three jobs as every other group. We don’t assign jobs because every kid needs to feel special. We assign jobs so every kid has an important role within his or her group.

Kids also generally need their collaborative behavior expectations spelled out. So many teachers have so many different expectations -- you need to be clear in your class. Do kids turn their desks? Sit on the floor? Can they move around? Can they multitask? Some of you have read this before, but I have a couple of rules I call the “Oh Group!” rules. It’s my cutesy way of reminding kids how to behave in collaborative learning. Please go with your own if you have favorites, but if you need a starting point, try these...

On task
On topic
On your seat
Only your group (talk to)
Ok volume (level 1)

There are specific collaborative structures to try, and we will discuss those another week. But in the meantime, try using these two rules (1. specific behavior expectations and 2. individual student “jobs”) to make your group-work a little more collaborative.  

Some trends last a year or two (remember the Chai Tea trend? or New Coke? Crystal Pepsi? Green Ketchup?) and some stick around (pumpkin pie. And pumpkin waffles. And pumpkin cookies. And, I think I’m getting hungry....)

Pumpkin P.I.E.S are classic for Thanksgiving dessert (even if they weren’t at the First Real Thanksgiving in St. Augustine) and P.I.E.S is a classic way of thinking of collaborative structures.

So go get a Pumpkin Mocha coffee and think about trends that have staying power -- and how to incorporate P.I.E.S and jobs in your class collaboration -- and let me know if you notice the difference in effectiveness and efficiency of collaboration. As always, email me at

No comments:

Post a Comment