Are you like me? Do you sometimes struggle to form and manage small groups of writers in the writing workshop? I feel confident conferring one-on-one with my students and teaching the minilesson, however, when it comes to small group work, I can struggle. This is an area that I’ve worked on a lot in the past three years, and I’ve found that flipped learning has helped a lot.
Why do I continue to try to teach small groups during writing workshop when I find it challenging to manage? I believe that learning is a social process and that students learn best when they talk about a strategy together and bounce ideas off each other. Small group work can be less structured than the formal class minilesson, and 2 or 3 students can work together to talk through their writing plans. Above all, small group learning switches the focus from the teacher to the students. The teacher takes a coaching role during small group sessions and students work together to tackle writing challenges. Flipped learning is perfect for small group work because it empowers students to take what they’ve learned and try it out and ask questions. Catlin Tucker, author of Blended Learning in Grades 4-12, wrote a blog post of using flipped learning in small group work and work stations (http://catlintucker.com/2016/01/inclassflip/). She says:
“Then students can watch that video in a station where they can still pace their learning by pausing or rewinding the video. Once they’ve seen the video, they can engage in a collaborative task attempting to apply the information from the video as a group.This is a great way to take the benefits of the flipped classroom and embed them into the station rotation model.”
Here are 2 scenarios in the writing workshop that illustrate the benefits of using flipped learning in your small groups.
Example #1: I’ve just taught a minilesson about a new strategy for elaboration in a persuasive essay. My goals for the remainder of the workshop time are to confer with 3 students and run two small group lessons. The first small group of learners need to learn strategies for writing the opposing viewpoints and rebuttals. The second group of learners need to review a previously-taught lesson about paragraph structure. Prior to using flipped learning in the writing workshop, I might have mismanaged my time by trying to juggle these two small groups of learners, and I would not have had time to confer individually with students.
However, with two flipped lessons ready to go, I am able to form the two small groups and help them access flipped lessons about the topics. This way I can confer with one student while the small groups are accessing the flipped lessons. Then I can meet with the small groups to answer any questions they might have and see how they are applying what they learned. After meeting with both small groups, I still have plenty of time to meet with 2 or 3 more students one-on-one.
Example #2: I’ve learned from Kate Roberts, co-author of DIY Literacy and Falling in Love with Close Reading, that a great strategy for managing small groups of writers in upper elementary and middle school grades is to write 2 to 3 small group topics on the white board and encourage students to sign up for one of those topics. For instance, I might write “Making your thesis statement stronger and arguable,” “3 Strategies for Elaborating,” and “Transitional Sentence Starters” on the board. Students can choose which topic to sign up for during class that day, or they can choose not to participate in a small group.
Flipped learning helped me manage these small group sessions. In the past, I would have struggled to provide enough small group options for all of my learners. I know myself, and I know that trying to run 3 small group sessions is challenging in a writing workshop period. Instead of trying to teach all of the sessions, I write FL next to a session title or titles that have flipped lessons online. This way my students can access the flipped lessons on their own, at a time of their convenience, or with a small group of students in the workshop.