Enhancing Small Group Instruction Through Technology
Collaborative learning and small group activities can facilitate higher-level thinking in students. However, it can be difficult for teachers to effectively evaluate that all groups and students are on-task and learning, and it can be challenging for students to communicate with their teachers in a small group setting. This web seminar, originally broadcast on October 3, 2013, featured two educators from Calcasieu Parish (La.) Public Schools discussing how new technology is used in their district to meet Common Core requirements, enhance small group instruction, and create an environment where students take an active role in their learning.
Classroom instruction is rapidly evolving as school leaders race to align with the Common Core. As a solutions provider, Lightspeed has had to go through a similar evolution. We have had to look at the new challenges of today’s education environment, and how to develop a solution that addresses these challenges. Clear communication between teachers and students is paramount to learning. We want to provide equal access for all students. Classroom audio systems have been centered around ensuring every student, regardless of where they are sitting in a classroom, can clearly hear what the teacher is saying.
Countless studies back up the idea that when students can clearly hear the teacher, they are more focused. This translates into an improved learning environment. The old “stand and deliver” model is going away. Students do not spend all of their classroom time sitting in rows, listening to what the teacher is saying. More and more, we see classroom activities being interactive and collaborative, with students grouped together. Teachers are instead moving around, working with small groups and facilitating discussion. The teacher is no longer just the knowledge expert. Teachers and students are becoming co-learners in the classroom. Children are having their own discussions and creating their own knowledge. Teachers have to be able to coach collaboration, communication, critical thinking, and creativity skills.
At the same time, classrooms continue to get larger and more diverse. How are teachers supposed to know what is going on in those different groups? How can they manage behavior and content? How can a teacher truly differentiate instruction? How can a teacher monitor small groups? A teacher can see the final result, but how can he or she know how the students got to that point?
The Lightspeed FLEXCAT is a speaker pod system. Each small group gets a pod and the teacher wears a microphone with earpiece and carries a remote. The teacher is able to address the entire class, or each group individually, through the speaker pods via a two-way communication link. Not only can a teacher address a group, but they are able to listen in on what the students are saying. Teachers can listen in without the students even knowing, so an authentic assessment can occur. If a teacher hears students going off task, he or she can interject and redirect those students.
Teachers can listen to students have productive conversations, reinforce this positive behavior, and even coach them to the next level. There is also a student sharing component that allows other groups to hear what one group is discussing. From the comfort of their own group, students can report their findings to the rest of the class.
4th grade teacher
Calcasieu Parish Public Schools
I used to struggle when I taught my students in small groups. Were the students on topic? Were they doing what they were supposed to do when I moved to a different group? I had a classroom full of students on different levels, and I needed to make sure they each were being pushed to their highest potential. I also had a common scenario of having one student who would dominate the entire discussion over other students.
One rotation I have students do in small groups is a blog station. Students compose and justify their stance on a given discussion prompt, and are able to collaborate and work together. I try to make sure students are pushing their own learning boundaries. Another station is a hands-on station. Students must work collaboratively to develop their own higher order thinking questions. They have the freedom to push themselves. FLEXCAT allows me to listen to the most organic conversations; students push themselves further than I may have been able to push them.
We need to keep documentation on how students are progressing throughout the year. On top of managing everyone’s learning and tracking their CCSS progress, I need to manage special education and ESL students. With the things I hear using my FLEXCAT, I am able to identify how my students are progressing better than ever before. Students have more ownership of their learning. My students’ learning has improved dramatically, because they have the chance to collaborate and have organic conversations with one another. Students work together to discover information and are active participants in their learning.
I never want to go back to teaching the way I did before I had the FLEXCAT system. FLEXCAT seamlessly integrated into my curriculum. The speaker pods are mobile and lightweight; students can take them anywhere in the classroom or even into the hallway to conduct schoolwork. I can listen to everything that is going on. It is a powerful tool in gaining knowledge of student learning levels. I feel like I am everywhere in the classroom at the same time. As an example, one of my students had a hard time verifying his answers. Whenever I would listen in on his group, I would hear another student tell him he needed to justify his answer. After several weeks of hearing his cohorts help him, I heard this student say “I know I need to justify my answer, let me explain.”
It has revolutionized my classroom. I have gained a new level of insight into my students that I never had before. I can identify which student has been talking a lot, and which one I have not heard from. When I click in, I can ask the non-contributor to contribute. Students can model for each other. I can ask a successful group to share their thoughts with the other students through the FLEXCAT speaker system. I know my students better now through listening to their small group conversations. I can tailor whole-group lessons to the holes in their learning that I discover through listening through FLEXCAT. With the FLEXCAT, I can manage learning without being physically present in group. FLEXCAT has given my students a voice, and given me the ability to hear what they are thinking. Never before have I had that knowledge.
Calcasieu Parish Public Schools
Our district is technologically infused. Technology is an enabler and scaffold for increased learning. It is a tool set that enhances instruction. The thing that has impressed us with FLEXCAT is how it facilitates best practices instruction. Individualized instruction, student engagement, and a constructionist approach to learning are all made possible with FLEXCAT. As we move our instruction to a CCSS-aligned framework and prepare for national and state assessments, this tool has allowed us to do real-time assessment. Teachers can redirect learning and peer into the cognitive processes going on in the classroom. We certainly saw the potential of this tool and started to see the connections, but our big aha moment really came when we seeded a couple of classrooms and saw for ourselves the power of this technology to transform learning. Certainly anyone thinking about this at the district level, I would encourage them to pick a couple of teachers who are already down this path, let them take off and observe what this tool can do.
To watch this web seminar in its entirety, please go to: www.districtadministration.com/ws100313