In my level 2 Social Studies, I have been looking at ways to engage students in their learning through encouraging the use of the 'Talanoa', or discussions about the context, as another means of knowledge building and understanding. Dr Jannie Van Hees recently shared that we need to be 'developing conversationalists' and how students oral literacy skills would improve if they could 'chainlink' what they had to say to each other. I wanted the kids to work in smaller groups to discuss and engage in conversations about perspectives that were relevant to their learning.
The topic we have been studying is the conflict between Israel and Palestine and in a recent exercise (that I'd blogged about earlier) we split the class into two different groups with opposing perspectives, to allow for students to verbalise their learnings. Although there were some good debates going on, realistically it was 2 or 3 students with the confidence to speak who did so.
To get more students to engage in a 'talanoa', my co-teacher CC and I, tried out a home group/expert group exercise. We asked students to get into an expert group of their choice, making 5 groups in total. A leader from each group came up and pulled out one of the perspectives from a box - Hamas, IDF, PLO, U.N and the Zionists. Students were given a brief about what they needed to write and got to the task of researching their assigned perspectives.
Most of the groups worked well together, but I noticed one or two students who would not contribute or did not engage. I had a quiet word with them to remind them that soon, they will need to split up and have to be able to tell others from outside their group, who they were and what they believed in. This gave them a 'boost' with the expectation that others will need their input.
After about 30 minutes, we asked the expert groups to split up and move in to 'home' groups, where they shared the beliefs and perspectives of the group they had studied Each group was then given a scenario, whereby they had to attempt to reach a resolution . Near the end of the session, I put the final statement on the board 'Whose owns the land' and gave everyone the chance to go for it!
On reflection, I found this activity was really engaging for the students, even the ones who had little to say. Some students spoke with confidence and encouraged each other, where as others listened, then gave input where they saw fit. Although there were one or two stragglers, the others in the group pulled them in to the conversation.
When I asked the students what they thought about the exercise, one student said how she felt 'brainy' because she could say what she'd learnt and reply back to other people who had opposite beliefs. One of the boys said he felt surprised that he could say what he did because he was usually shy but felt safe enough in the smaller group environment to speak up.
For next time, I would like students to write a reflection of the exercise to gage how successful (or not) it was in helping them in their learning. I may also use conversation cue cards or question cards on each table once their in their home groups, to get more kids to share and get used to discussions in these smaller, more manageable groups.