Keeping Students on Track During Group Work

For me, one of the pitfalls of group work is that some students stray off task and end up talking about Saturday’s football game or the latest rumor they heard. This year I stumbled upon a way to redirect them that worked well.

As I am circulating and notice that student discussion has veered off track, I hold up my hand, ask for silence, and say, “Goal Check! Right now, each of you think about what you plan to do, say, think, and/or write in the next 15 minutes.”

This is their signal to refocus on the task at hand, determine what they—individually and as a group—need to do in the next 15 (or 20, or 30) minutes, and create a short-term goal. The length of time they have to complete the goal is, of course, dependent upon the assigned task and the time remaining for group work.

In order to make sure each student has a goal in mind, I randomly and quickly call on a few students and ask them what they plan to accomplish in the next 15 minutes. I require their answers to be extremely specific. Typical replies include: “We need to finish finding the central idea of the article.” Or, “I need to figure out how the metaphor in paragraph two affects the reader, and Aaron is going to complete the list of similes.” Or, “We need to finish our discussion of the main character’s motivation.”

I’ve used the technique for a few months. Now that my students are used to the routine, they are able to quickly determine what needs to be done and verbalize their goals. In fact, I’ve seen quite a few students use the technique without prompting. I knew for sure it was a successful strategy, however, last week when one of my, shall we say more “challenging” students, raised his hand and said loudly, “We need to do a goal check!”

K.J. Wagner  Education Oasis

What’s the Big Idea? Active Learning

While perusing my favorite professional books yesterday, and I came across a well-worn, dog-eared copy of James Burke’s What’s the Big Idea? Pink, purple, and green sticky notes stuck out everywhere. On page seven, I found this gem:

“All genuine learning is active, not passive. It involves the use of the mind, not just memory. It is a process of discovery in which the student is the main agent, not the teacher.”

With this in mind, I wrote three questions at the top of my monthly planner:

  1. Is the student actively learning?
    2. Does this lesson involve the mind (not just the memory)?
    3.  Is the student making discoveries  about the topic or concept?


My goal for the remainder of the month is to look at each lesson through the lens of these questions and try to answer each in the affirmative. I’ll let you know the results next month. Why not give it a try? Let me know how it works for you.

K.J. Wagner  Education Oasis