Professional Development Opinion

Be Flexible to Meet the Needs of a Group

By Starr Sackstein — May 01, 2018 3 min read
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There were only five of us present in a group that was supposed to be a few folks larger. We had the benefit of the group all being from one school and from the same department. They were committed to the cause of putting students in charge of feedback and eagerly participated in our first workshop. Never afraid to be frank about concerns, but not in a negative way, in a realistic way, they looked for genuine strategies that would work for their middle school-aged students.

Feeling fortunate that the group was all from a middle school and from the same school, it really provided an opportunity to dig deep into their needs as a group and to tailor the learning for their particular needs.

Of course, as the facilitator, I came prepared with an agenda and materials, but it was far more important to me that they walk away with something tangible that they wouldn’t otherwise have had the time to create.

To kick off the learning, I found a great Teaching Channel video about 7th grade ELA peer conferences and we watched it with intention. What did they notice? What was the structure? What were their wonderings?

Since the video was only six minutes long, it was easy to digest and ease us back into the work we started before the many snow days in January.

The video generated a good discussion that ended up really focusing our work for the day which led nicely into a short reading from my book Peer Feedback in the Classroom about expert groups: how to create them, what topics should be used, which students should be placed in them. This led to a bevy of additional questions that got me thinking.

At our last meeting, they had mentioned that they used to have a department rubric that really helped to structure expectations but that they weren’t using that rubric anymore. After listening to them talk for a few moments, I said, “How would you feel about working on a collaborative team rubric today and then connecting it back to how you can build expert groups and feedback prompts from it?”

The energy in the room shifted. It was palpable. We already had a professional and collegial relationship, but now the group was excited. Each member eagerly agreed that this should be the goal of our session. And despite the fact that this wasn’t what I had planned to lead them through, it was a better plan than what I was going to do.

For the rest of the day, we worked through a template that the group provided. We looked at each indicator and aligned it with the new Next Generation ELA Standards. We worked through the short “kid-friendly” blurb for the indicator and decided we would write questions for students to ask themselves or each other, as well as student feedback, prompts below for both positive and constructive feedback.

We worked to ensure it would be meet the needs of the projects they would use it for. They thought about particular students diligently and worked together to presuppose the challenges and create built-in workarounds. And we laughed a lot as we worked our way through the document.

By the end of the day we have sections aligned with the standards that kids could use in class for expert groups on all of the following:

  • Organization (for both big picture and small picture)
  • Development
  • Word choice
  • Voice/ craft/ audience
  • Sentence fluency
  • Mechanics
  • Process

Looking back on the experience now, I’m glad I was able to provide them an authentic opportunity to collaborate and I could facilitate their getting the work done. I’m eager to hear how it goes when they roll it out with students and maybe that too will become a collaborative blog post.

There is nothing I like more as a facilitator than watching a healthy team work together toward a common goal and then achieving the goal with a product that will make their lives easier. That’s really what it is all about.

What kinds of adjustments have you made to plan to ensure that the group got what they needed? Please share.

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