Friday, 13 March 2015

Grouping Tagline

This school year, I attempted a grouping experiment. I set my classroom up in ten clusters of 3 desks. Students would take a random number each day, and proceed to that cluster. (For more about "visibly random groups" see section 9 of this CMEF post. For more about how my experiment ran, see my post The Grouping Experiment from October.)

Well, six weeks into semester one, I was "kind of battered and broken". The system completely fell apart by November. Now, we're six weeks into semester two. I am no longer broken.


When second semester began in February, I knew the number system wouldn't work. Not merely because it had already failed, but also because a lot of my laminated numbers had gone missing. So I did a quick investigation into the software solutions proposed by readers after my last post - and it still seemed like some overhead would be necessary (like a printout). And again, what about people who had to be in a particular location? Or students who were away?

Then it hit me. Nametags.

Happy 3/14/15 tomorrow!
The fact that any idea hit me at all is impressive, given the annual exam burnout at the end of January. The fact that this (eventual) success is based off the first greatest failure in the experiment makes it even more so.

Consider, my October post noted that "Desk labels with names: Failed within two days" (of the start of semester one). And I let it go because the names had been more for me, with respect to doing attendance. After all, it was numbers that decided the groups, not names! Right? Derp.

This semester, within the first week, I (again!) had each student make a name tag out of a coloured sheet of paper. Different colours for the different classes. It wasn't done the first day, and the second day I was sick, but it got done. After that first week, every Tuesday and Thursday, I've randomly distributed the name tags around the room. A student finds their name, and sits there.

For whatever reason, it's working brilliantly. Here's a quick analysis of why I think that is the case.

1) It's not every day. I didn't start this until the second week, by which point some people already preferred certain desks. Humans are creatures of habit. Thus, only every other day in a week - but this seems to have more buy-in! The student knows they can go back to their friend or the back of the class the following day. With any luck, they'll take new ideas back with them.

2) Accommodations aren't tricky. My projector is still an issue like last time, but people who need to sit closer to the front can put a star on their tags, and I drop those names closer to the front. Boom. If a student is away for a week, I don't put their name out. If a student is away unexpectedly, a group of 3 becomes 2, no big deal.

3) Ease of distribution. I don't have to re-collect numbers from people for the next class - the next set of names is different. I can even set out tags for the next class before collecting the current ones (which is then easily done while the new class comes in), and some students even drop their tag on my desk on the way out. I keep the tags in a small bin.

So yes, students need to search for their names, but they were searching for numbers last time regardless. Yes, name tags have gone missing (or been doctored), but they're easily re-made. Yes, some people are still "gaming" the system (I do see when you swap your name tag for the place behind you), but that hasn't been terribly disruptive (pick your battles). And yes, I have lost a bit of the interaction; that's on me to recover it.

In brief, nothing is ever an unqualified success, but I'm a heck of a lot further along this semester than I was in October. Some students have even gotten overly creative with their tags, which is nice to see. So on the whole, as far as "visibly random groups" goes - it's not quite like that, but I'll take it.

Classroom setup - same now as in September


  1. So great that you're finding a system that works for you & your students!

    1. Thanks! I'm hoping one for the better, and that the trend can continue.

  2. I don't do random grouping, but I think this is an excellent way to work it. Why not group by ability? I never let my kids sit where they want.

    1. My main issues with ability groups are (1) Some groups may feel like there's a "ceiling" they're underneath, or that "they're not going to get it" - or if a single person feels like that in a high ability group, they're more likely to be frustrated than to see it as a learning experience. And (2) I'm not always the best judge of ability (granted, I may be better than them, but it's hardly my forte) - or of GROUPS for that matter.

      I resisted groups for the longest time because I hate working in groups myself. I'm a quiet listener-type. It was the randomness that appealed to me in the first place.