Pandemic Reflections Part 2 – Communication and Collaboration

Today’s Contributor: In addition to being a Campus Innovation Connector, Christine Paterson is a social studies teacher at Navarro High School. She loves reading and learning, especially when she can inspire her students to do the same. Outside of school, Christine enjoys podcasts, Dateline, and decorating sugar cookies.

This year was hard. We walked back into a building filled to capacity with physical bodies, ready, excited, and hopeful for a return to “normal”. But this year hasn’t been normal. Students are distracted, struggling, and hesitant to interact with each other. That hesitation has been my focus for much this year. How do we get students to communicate and collaborate with each other on a genuine and authentic level? I know I am not the only one. Across our campus the same sighs of, “they won’t work together”, “they won’t move”, “they won’t talk to each other” echo over and over again. Honestly, I never quite hit the mark consistently but two things seemed to help make subtle shifts. 

First, having students sit with the same people for a 9 week period. Obvious. I know. Especially considering my 14 years of classroom experience but my MO is students up, and shifting, and grouping, and re-grouping to change it up and keep them on their toes. Instead, I focused on daily “getting to know you” activities and challenges. Small things, like “do you eat macaroni and cheese with a fork or a spoon?” or mind-teasers that they raced against other groups to complete. Some days we spent 15 minutes playing Uno. A waste of time in an AP class? Maybe. But I reaped the payout when they focused and engaged with me, each other, and the material like they did  B.C. (before Covid). 

Hexagonal thinking also led to success. If you don’t know about hexagonal thinking, it’s been featured in the Cult of Pedagogy and Edutopia. But the basic idea is to take 10-15 concepts, put them on hexagons, and have students connect them either digitally or physically. Since a hexagon has six sides, there are a multitude of options, and no right answer because every answer is right as long as the connection can be explained. The truth is, I was shocked at how interactive and alive students became while they tried to make connections, talk through the why, and decide what to put where. The wonderful thing about hexagonal thinking is that it is low prep, can be used in any content area, and scaled up or down. For example, I had students remove 5 terms and add 5 more from a different list. Or students connected the hexagons and a different group had to explain the connections. Or students could create their own term list. The possibilities are endless and lead to deep and thoughtful conversations.

So I will circle back to… this year was hard. But also a good reminder that by focusing on what is working, rather than what isn’t, we can help to reset both ourselves and our students.

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