Bethany's Blog

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Collaboration in Progress!


What learning did I see happening?

Today I had the opportunity to observe a math lesson guided by a series of open ended questions. The lesson was given by my good friend and colleague, Julie, and assisted by the lovely, Faye. I wasn’t sure what lens I would be observing the lesson through. I expected to see a math lesson where students showed their knowledge of multiplication. I expected the students to show their answers through pictures, words and numbers. Since I am a Judaic Studies teacher, I knew that looking at the lesson through a math lens would not necessarily be useful for me. I decided to look at how the students were able to collaborate with each other.


I observed four groups, two students per group, and each group was chosen at random. I had the advantage of knowing these students very well as I was their teacher last year when they were in grade two. In a way, I already had a sense of what I might expect as I began observing each group. I tried my best to keep my biases aside. In the first group that I observed, each of them read the question they were given separately. Then they began, separately, writing down the answer. They finished the first question in just a couple of minutes without even speaking to each other. With the second question in hand, they began to read it separately but soon realized that this question was much more complex, so they read it again, together. They decided to develop a system to work together. One boy was the “idea giver” and the other was the “writer”. They did switch roles a few times as each of them had something to add to the others’ role. So towards the end, they were truly collaborating. Success!

The next group I noticed that from the very beginning, they worked together beautifully. They explained to each other exactly what were doing throughout the process. Neither took more of a leadership role than the other, and worked positively the entire time. Such a delight it was to see these two working and respecting each other. The next group were two boys who never quite got into a groove. One was clearly the boss and everything his partner did was not good enough. He was constantly putting his partner down and eventually just began doing his own work and not collaborating at all. When I asked them at the end how they think they worked together, their responses showed that they were frustrated with each other. One of the boys commented, “My partner wouldn’t let me do any of the work and kept crossing out my numbers when I made a mistake.” Julie mentioned that these two had been paired up based on math skill level alone. The last group I observed was a fascinating pair. One team member immediately took the lead as quite possibly they knew that their partner wouldn’t necessarily want the lead, and would actually appreciate having their partner take the lead. What a leader this student was! This student explained what they were doing the entire time so that their partner was not left out. The partner commented to me, “We worked it out together, Morah Batya! It was really good.” Both members were content and happy!

3 Comments to

“Collaboration in Progress!”

  1. January 20th, 2019 at 11:19 pm      Reply chelsea Says:

    Beth! Great capture of collaboration here in this classroom. You not only captured a moment in time of collaboration within groups, but also named and took note of the “roles” that the students naturally took on. It’s wonderful when students feel comfortable to take on their natural roles. I’m wondering myself, if students were given “roles” for a task, whether the positive attitude and working together would remain the same. As teachers we know some students crave certain roles, while others avoid them. As we are all getting outside of our comfort zones in this documenting journey, it gives me more confidence and thought to push the students out of theirs as well. 🙂

  2. January 21st, 2019 at 7:55 pm      Reply Jon Mitzmacher Says:


    …what did you learn about observation that would be useful for the teachers who you observed?
    …what did you learn about observation that would be useful for you as a teacher?
    …what did you learn about observation that would be useful for students as learners?

    Part of what we are hoping to create with a culture of critique are more opportunities for us to observe each other and learn by and from it. Great job!

  3. January 30th, 2019 at 4:19 pm      Reply Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano Says:

    I am thrilled that you prefaced your blog post with the question : What learning did I see happening?
    That is what documenting is about… the learning… it is not about the pretty pictures or videos or other artifacts we capture, but it is about the connection, the reflection and the interpretation of HOW these artifacts are connected to LEARNING. That is what will make us a better teacher and a better learner, as we observer and use documenting as a strategy FOR learning.

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