Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Teaching Boys Who Struggle in School: Pathway 3: Reinforce

The next pathway Cleveland elucidates upon is reinforcement.  Here Cleveland explains the epidemic that many struggling learners face in the areas of communication and collaboration, two critical areas for success in the real world. Many boys fail in these areas because of a lack of role models showing them how to work with others and how to communicate as a professional. The best way to motivate boys to acquire these skills they are lacking is through a connection to their real world relevance..  This allows boys to see the applicability behind what they are learning as well as creating a “no limit application” to their learning.

First, Cleveland examines the communication skills.  She defines communication skills as “ the ability to speak to, listen to, and ‘read’ other people.” Because boys so often follow the code of stereotypical males, they have difficulty determining appropriate emotional responses for situations.  If boys can’t distinguish their own emotions, they will have trouble relating or interpreting others emotions.  By creating real world scenarios with our students in the classroom, students can learn to identify and handle the emotions they experience and deal with them in a constructive way. Cleveland includes in this section Adam Cox’s list of pragmatic communication skills that help boys who deal with their emotional literacy:

  • Maintaining appropriate conversational distance
  • Maintaining eye contact
  • Linking gestures with ideas or emotions
  • Using facial expressions effectively
  • Attending to time and place
  • Taking turns
  • Voice modulation
  • Giving compliments
  • Greetings and farewells
  • Detecting emotions in others
  • Perceiving and expressing humor
  • Knowing how to make conversational transitions
  • Anticipating other people’s reactions

Cox argues that boys who lack these skills need to have a threefold approach to learning them: embed the skills in everyday activities, offer specific instructions, and connect the skills to real world relevance.  These approaches along with a strong teacher student relationship, access and relevance, distributed practice and repetition, and an authentic learning environment empower struggling students with life-long communication skills. Cleveland quotes from Ron Clark, “this kind of instruction leads directly to  self-respect, respect for others, and a positive environment in which to succeed.  These skills don’t just improve grades, they change lives.

Next, Cleveland explores the power of collaboration, “as boys work collaboratively in their groups, they begin to understand that two, three, or four heads are often better than one...Collaboration-giving and supporting in addition to receiving- allows the group to achieve what the individual cannot.” Cleveland suggests 4 different collaborative learning structures to help struggling learners: (adapted from Kagan)

Expert Group Jigsaw:
  • Collaborative task: The acquisition and comprehension of large segments of new information
  • Overview: The teacher divides the reading assignment into roughly equal portions, as many portions as there are members of each group. Each home group receives one set of the divided reading materials.
  • Suggested Roles: Task Master, Gate Keeper, Summarizer, Recorder
  • Each home group member is assigned a role that will help to orchestrate the interchange and contributions during sharing
  • Step 1: Each group member selects one portion of the reading assignment and reads it.
  • Step 2: After all the group members read their assigned segments, they leave their original groups and join with like embers of other groups as “experts.” Each expert group discusses its assigned segment and comes to a consensus on what key information to share
  • Step 3: Experts return to their home groups and share,using the roles to facilitate the interchange.

Turn 4 Learning:
  • Collaborative task: The review or sharing of information. Useful before, during or after a lesson or unit of study.
  • Overview: Students are organized into groups of four. The teacher provides each group with a set of questions in an envelope. Each question is written on a separate note card. Students rotate through the same sequence of steps to answer each question, each group member taking responsibility for one role during each round of question-answering.
  • Embedded Roles: Roles are embedded in the sequence of steps completed in answering each question: Question Reader, Question Answerer, Extender, and Summarize.
  • Step 1: Question Reader selects and reads a question card
  • Step 2: Question Answerer (the person to the Reader’s left) answers the question
  • Step 3: Extender (the person to the Answerer’s left) extends the answer just given
  • Step 4: Summarizer (the fourth and final person in the group) summarizes key points.
  • The four step cycle repeats, the responsibility for starting the sequence rotating to the left by one person for each successive question.

thinkDOTS:  (Navarez and Brimijoin)
  • Collaborative task: The review or sharing of information in which all students are simultaneously involved in discussion. useful before, during, or after a lesson or unit.
  • Overview: Students are organized into groups of three or six. Students take turns throwing a die to choose which question from a set of six questions they will answer. The six questions correspond to the six levels in Bloom’s Taxonomy. The level of Bloom’s Taxonomy is indicated by the number of “dots.” This, a question at Level 1 (Remember) of the taxonomy would have one dot on it. A question at Level 2 (Understand) would have two “dots” and so forth.
  • Often each card will have more than one question to accommodate the likelihood that a level may be selected several times during the random throwing of dice. If the due indicates a level for which all questions have already been answered, the thrower of the die may throw again, extend the previous answer to one of the existing questions, or create a question of his or her own to answer
  • Optional Roles: Task Master, Checker, Summarizer, Praiser
  • To use this strategy as a cooperative learning structure, roles may be added to enhance the quality of sharing. Roles may remain constant as the responsibility for choosing and answering the question rotates around the group or roles may rotate along with the responsibility for choosing and answering the question (e.g. the person to the right of the die roller is always the Praiser, the person across from the die roller is always the Summarizer, and so forth).

Cleveland also explores more of Kagan’s work with roles, gambits and structures, “ Collaborative roles and gambits reinforce the cooperative learning principles of positive interdependence and individual accountability, orchestrating the interaction during group work and enhancing it by building a cooperative mentality.” In order for group work to be productive, standards and expectations must be set with teachers working through the problem areas with the kids.  
1. Pick a specific PROBLEM during group work: talking during personal things, taking over conversations, not participating, etc...
2. Identify the COLLABORATION SKILL needed: stay on task, use time wisely, summarize, paraphrase, coaching, check for understanding, record information
3. Develop a ROLE: task master, summarizer, coach, checker, recorder
4. Develop GAMBITS for the role: TM: “Let’s move onto the next question; GK:” What do you think?”; Sum: “In other words, you mean...” Recorder: “Here are our main ideas”
5. MODEL, DEMONSTRATE, PRACTICE the skill’s role and gambits without content: looks like/ sounds like
6. APPLY multiple skills (roles and gambits) in context using structures: expert group jigsaw, numbered head’s together, turn-4-learning, thinkDOTS

The identified sequence for teaching roles and gambits works directly with Cox’s communication skills. In essence, boys are learning to communicate and collaborate together.  Additionally, these steps offer specific instructions for struggling learners helping them to achieve success with defined roles and expectations. As Cleveland states, “boys learn by doing, and these structures orchestrate their success.”

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