Students need more time to read and annotate “Stereotyping,” the text we started working with the day before. I give students an additional 20 minutes or so to finish annotating the text. At this point, students will have annotated enough for me to get a sense of their thought process, which I have repeatedly said is what I am able to see in the notes they mark on the text, and so I take this time to walk around and read their comments. At this point, their papers are still limited in the amount and quality of the comments they are writing, but I am not concerned, yet. This is still the first unit and we will be spending more time throughout the year learning to deconstruct a text. For now, it is clear that students are making an effort, and for many, it is the first real effort at thoroughly annotating a text. This makes me happy. This student sample of what he annotated is a good example of what I see in other papers. He made some personal connections to the text, such as buying into expectations people had of him because of his race, which are good connections that will help him understand the author's experience. He did ask a question, but the question is not one that will help him grasp the central ideas of this text. Still, he makes a real effort to try writing a variety of notes.
I interrupt their work half way through the allotted time period to let students know they will be holding an academic discussion in small groups about the text. I point out that if they have not done so already, they need to make an effort to identify the author’s argument by noting his central ideas and supporting details, important Common Core skills, and that if they do not quite understand what the author is arguing, to make sure they can formulate good questions to discuss with their small group later this class period. I also ask students to spend some time thinking about how this text connects to the concept of Identity. I then let them get back to work and continue looking at individual papers. This announcement is meant to prompt them to come to the discussion prepared.
My students have already had a few opportunities to hold large group discussions where I am able to observe them and help them along and it has been working well. For this activity, I want them to discuss in small groups. However, in the past, I have had a difficult time making small group discussions successful. This is partly because I am not able to supervise all students closely so accountability is diminished. Another important reason is that most of the students I have had come to me with little to no experience holding academic discussions and find it easy to not participate during small group discussions. To give them additional support, I provided a tight structure for this discussion.
Once students are organized in groups of four, I ask them to number off from 1-4. I ask students who are number one to raise their hand, then students who are number two to raise their hand and so on. This is to make sure that each group is clear about who is one, two, three and four. I then explain that each student will get two minutes to share anything they annotated. It could be a question they have, a confusing part they indentified, a conclusion they want to test out, or anything else that came to mind as they tried to read the text. The job of the other three students is to respond to what was said. I make it clear that their goal is to use this small group discussion to deepen their understanding of the author’s argument and to begin to test connections they have made to the concept of Identity. I explain that I will be walking around listening in on their discussions. After the four 2-minute rotations are up, I give them an additional two minutes to finish discussing anything pending. There is likely a group that will have a fifth member so this is a good opportunity to give that last member a turn. Also, it is a good opportunity for the group to go back to any discussion that was cut short when I called time to switch to the next student. This did happen to a couple of groups who found it easy to fully engage in their discussion.
After the small group discussions, I ask students to share highlights of their group discussions. I also ask students to bring up any additional questions or points that still need to be clarified. At this point we hold an informal whole class discussion.