From Morning Meeting to Academics

I am Melani Novinger, a fourth grade self-contained teacher at Davis Elementary.   This is my fifteenth year teaching fourth grade in the district.  When I am not encouraging students to ask questions and find their passions, I enjoy being outside camping, biking, and hiking with my husband and three children.

Can we start with a confession?  Up until winter break, I was not a fan of the Zoom Breakout Room. I knew I should be using them regularly, and I was.  However once morning meeting was over at 8:15, breakout rooms were done for the day.  I wasn’t sure how to hold students accountable for the learning and keep them on task when I couldn’t be in every room at once.  The few times I tried using them for academic purposes I would join a room and find myself in the middle of conversations about Fortnite usernames and YouTubers.  So breakout rooms stayed in non-academic tasks where I didn’t need to worry about off task behavior and missed educational opportunities.

Two weeks into the spring semester, that has all changed.  Breakout rooms for academic tasks are my new favorite thing.  Kids are engaged and having good conversations.  Almost always, the students ask for more time to keep working.  What changed?  Everything!

Intentionality.  I am now very intentional about which students I put together.  Automatic (random) grouping is left for morning meetings and community building.  Before opening up rooms, I check and double check groupings to make sure there is at least one to two focused students in the group.

Choice. While I am manually assigning students to groups, I am also giving them some choice in their groups. In social studies, when we discussed the missions, students had a choice to study the Priests, Soldiers, or Native Americans.  They were grouped by their interest.  Another time, they chose which job they wanted to do and were grouped so the jobs were distributed evenly. 
Jobs.  Amber Rinehart shared in a campus wide PD a wonderful graphic for assigning jobs to breakout room groups.  Implementing roles has greatly increased both ownership and participation in the groups.  I don’t assign jobs for all tasks-especially if the task is less than 5 minutes.

GoNoodle.  In that same campus wide PD, a teacher shared that while she set up breakout rooms, she played a GoNoodle for students to do.  I utilized this strategy immediately which allowed students to get up and move (brain break!) while giving me the 3-5 minutes I needed to set up rooms. GoNoodle’s library is extensive now, so I pull in videos that match the subject area I am teaching, which helps reinforce my lessons.  Win-Win!

Accountability. Over the summer, I did many professional development sessions via Zoom, several that were facilitated by the Tech Design Team.  In each PD, whenever we were in breakout rooms, we had to show our conversation in some form.  With my students, I have used Google Slides (assign each group a slide), presenting the whole class when we come back together, and Padlet to hold them accountable for their breakout room conversations.  Assigning jobs (see above) ensured that not everyone was writing on the Padlet board at once (which gets rather crazy) and kept everyone involved.  

Reflection. After our longer breakout rooms, students reflect on their own participation.  The first couple of times, they just scored themselves in the chat-3 being on task and focused the whole time, 1 being entirely off task.  This was hard for me to keep track of.  Now I use Zoom’s Polling feature (at the bottom of the Zoom task bar).  To use the Polling feature, click on Polls.  Select edit. This will open up a Zoom page within your browser.  Make your poll, launch it and you’re set!  For reflection on participation, I don’t share the poll with the class.  When we’re voting on or Numberock multiple videos, I do.

It’s been my goal to use Academic Zoom Breakout rooms every day.  While I have not done it absolutely every day, I’ve come close so far.  My breakout room fear is dissipating and my students look forward to that time to collaborate.

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