Using Participation Checks to Promote Turn-Taking in Teams

During the 2019-2020 school year, my CPM Teacher Research Team decided to center our work around active listening and turn-taking. Most of our work ended up focusing more on turn-taking, which included ensuring students in a team were talking equally. One innovation that my colleague, Sarah Shon, created and started using was a Participation Check. This Participation Check was created to get her students to stop, reflect, and discuss how much time each member in their team participated in a task or set of problems.

About halfway through my Algebra 1 lesson, I could see the teams falling apart because they were not talking to one another. My intervention specialist was answering individual questions to members of each team and my student teacher was repeating things she stated already within the same team.  I felt like the whole class was falling apart with their discussions and reverting back to the beginning of the year. It was extremely frustrating to watch, so I told my student teacher we were going to stop the class at the halfway point and pose the participation prompt that Sarah created. This is the prompt that I copied from Sarah:

I knew that I had to intervene. I stopped the class and said that I was seeing too much individual work and not hearing good discussions and I know that they could do a lot better than that!  I handed a notecard to every student and asked them to put their name on it and then answer the first question silently (from the Participation Reflection above). I asked them to be honest with themselves and told them that this was not for a grade nor would we judge their answer, rather it was merely to get a feel for how we can improve our discussions.

My students asked if they could pick a number that wasn’t listed, like 15%, and I said, “Of course!”  As I walked around the room, I was looking at what students were writing down. My student teacher came up to me and said, “They’re all writing 25%.”   I repeated that we wanted honest answers and such honesty would help us start improving our communication with one another.  

I then asked them to share their reflections with their teammates. I was happy to hear some of the students telling their teammates respectfully that they didn’t agree with their percentage, and telling them the percentage they thought they should have written down.  Some of the students changed their percentages after that. There was one team where everyone chose 25%, but two of the students typically complete the work together while the other two ask my intervention specialist for a lot of individual help.  These four students are rarely on the same part of the same problem. One student in this team usually copies down what everyone else is writing and he recorded 25%. I decided to tell them what I saw happening today and how this is something that I see happen with their team daily.  Then I asked them to re-rate themselves, but to really think about the conversation that they had with each other today about the problems we’ve done. Interestingly, the one student who copies everyone’s work changed his answer to 0%.  

Another team had two members absent today, but the two remaining are typically very vocal and find solutions pretty easily.   One has an IEP and the other student does not. They love to let everyone know what the answers are and I have to pull them back often to let the other teammates think about the problem before giving them the answers.  Above, you can see what they wrote on their note cards for the first question – What % of the time do you talk with your team? I crossed out their names in black and wrote their initials on the cards for my reference. What I thought was interesting about these two was the goal that they wrote.  They both wrote that they’ll listen more. When I collected their cards, I asked them, “If you listen more, do you think that your teammates will talk more?” They both looked at me and smiled and said, “No.” I followed with asking them what they could do to help their teammates talk more (other than them talking less).  The one student said, “I could ask them what they think we should do for the problem”, and the other said, “I could ask them if they have any ideas.” I was happy that they thought about asking their teammates questions to bring them into the conversation.  

A different team of three students’ (2 students with IEP’s, 1 other student, 1 student was absent) answers are shown above.  The student (GD) who answered 0% typically speaks a lot more when she thinks she’s the “smartest” student in her team.  To her, being smart is getting the answer the fastest. Now that she’s in a new team with a student who excels in math she has felt challenged and has shut down.  At least she was being honest with her team. She has not participated in the conversations lately. I thanked her for being honest and when I read her goal, I was very sad that she stated that she shuts down because she’s afraid of getting the answer wrong.  I felt that we have talked a lot about growth mindset but it hasn’t seemed to help her. How can I help her feel more secure when she’s working with kids who sometimes get it faster than she does, other than talking to her about it?  

It was interesting to hear one other team share their percentages.  They all had 25% at first but after they shared, three team members told the one student that he may talk 25% (or more) at times, but it’s usually not on math.  They convinced him that he needed to lower his percentage and he changed it to 15%, and his goal became to try to focus better!

Overall, I like that we stopped the lesson and did this exercise.  I am hoping that I’ll hear better conversations tomorrow.  I plan to remind them of their goals before they start working, and I will be asking them to use our Team Talk Sentence Starters to help them have better conversations.  

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