Within Ms. Blum’s classroom, she has a variety of strategies to encourage discussion amongst students, most of which are distinctive between whole groups and small group settings. I am fortunate to have the equal opportunity to observe both, and find that across activities and subject areas her class has a very cooperative and collaborative dynamic.
In whole group settings, Ms. Blum uses the A-B buddy system, and then specific activities to guide their thinking and encourage comprehension and literacy skills. The A-B buddy system is a simple way to teach students to turn to the student(s) near them and discuss a certain question – similar to what is commonly referred to as the think-pair-share structure. In regards to specific activities, she may pass out cards with ideas, key details, true or false, questions, etc. that students will discuss and then hold up or share if their card applies. Another technique she uses to encourage discussion is by facilitating questions throughout a read aloud in whole group settings, or with interdisciplinary connections between different subjects and components of the curriculum.
The skill of collaboration and discussion is developed more independently through small group settings, which most often occur in reading groups and math and literacy centers. Though I came in halfway through the year, it is evident that Ms. Blum set an expectation of working with their partners to check work, answer difficult or confusing questions, and/or discuss the activity itself. One of the literacy centers that comes to mind is what her class calls the ‘Library Center’. In this center, students each read their own assigned text and then answer comprehension questions about the text. The activity she uses frequently involves rolling a die to determine which question about the text students are to answer. This mutual discussion of texts develops students’ skills in engaging with one another on literary ideas and topics. Another literary center that involves discussion is the ‘Listening Center’ – where students listen to a book on tape and then complete an activity in response to the book. I walk by and frequently observe students discussing the activity, similar stories they’ve read, or the characters in the book.
Though these examples are specific, Ms. Blum is constantly engaging students in discussions and in work with one another. I hope to strengthen and implement this skill in my own teaching by taking the time before lessons to identify cross-curricular connections and important discussion questions in advance. I have also observed that it is important to maximize whole group time and read-alouds to ensure that students are connecting with the content and one another through discussion. The skills developed through Ms. Blum’s activities and centers, even at the kindergarten level, will continue to benefit their learning throughout all of their school experiences.