Today in World History I had both sections divide up into groups of 3-5 to read and discuss the rest of Nzinga Mbemba’s letter to the King of Portugal. Their instruction was to extract as much information from the document as they could.
They did very well with that, but this post is to note that the small-group process invited students into the discovery and deliberation who had said nothing in the big circle on Tuesday. I made wandery circuits of the classroom, not checking up but checking in, available for questions and as a sounding board. There was some lively conversation, mostly on point, from all but two or three students in both classes. I engaged them by complimenting their process and suggesting they take notes since their findings would come in handy for later discussions and papers. This had clearly not occurred to some of them; I was only prompted to it myself by the prior evening’s class being at a loss to repeat, for research prompts, thoughts and questions they had deliberated shortly before. And ironically, it’s not like that was the first time I’d noticed this issue either.
When we got back in the big circle some of the same people were again the main agents of discussion, but there were also some notable additions to the main flow, and a few more students who chimed in with particular findings or questions from their group work. About half the students in each section spoke at least once in the main group.
I think it’s pretty clear that the smaller groups engaged and enabled students who were below the threshold of active participation in the larger group. For some of them, this then scaled back up to the larger group.