Realization: My Job is One Big Game of Whac-a-mole!
When my lessons take place in the computer lab, the Whac-a-mole likeness is quite obvious to me.
Everything starts out smoothly. Only a few students need help at first, and I can usually predict who they will be.
As the students become more involved in their individual projects, the hands start going up more frequently. This is when it is the most fun for me (for real). There's an adrenaline rush, but I still feel very much in control. As they continue to work, students try new things, take risks (which I encourage), and occasionally get stuck along the way. At this point in the game, I learn the most about my students. I see common mistakes they make, but I also get to know the individuals. I even gain a lot of perspective about work habits, priorities, and interests. While I am "in the zone," I get a good picture of what my students are capable of doing independently.
After a while, the hands start to pop up at a more rapid pace. I look around and notice that several students are waiting for me. My heart starts pounding... But then I realize that some of those students are simply signaling that they are finished. I only need to approve their work, but doing that also requires more of my focus. At this point, I realize that I'm NOT going to be able to keep up with everyone's needs. Luckily for me, I'm the boss of this game. In my version, students are allowed to join my team to help others learn.
Creating and Managing the Team
As students finish their independent work, they may join the team or work independently on something else. Most of my students love to help.
When a student has a question, I send a capable team member over to assist. Once the team member is in position, they naturally check in with those other students seeking help. I am amazed by how much my students can figure out together. As more team members are in play, I am able to approve or assess the finished projects that those team members have left open for me.
If there is a common problem students make, I quickly train a few "specialists" to help me. For example, some students may forget how to add pictures to the project. Those students in need of picture-assistance use a special hand signal when they need help, and those "specialists" go to work helping. That frees me up so that I can continue to answer more difficult or unique questions.
My team members know from the beginning that helping others does not mean doing things FOR them. For the most part, they have to be "hands off" with their help. The process of explaining how to do something proves to be challenging, even for my most competent team members. It is an invaluable experience.
Don't Make the Starters Play the Whole Game
Everyone is good at something!
There comes a time when I bench my original team members and allow others to join in. Eventually everyone has the opportunity to "play the game" and help out.
I do this because:
- Early finishers often need to go back to their projects and make adjustments;
- They may have learned something from someone they helped, so they go back to modify their own project;
- I want students to know they can take their time and still get a chance to help others;
- Original team members deserve time to pursue their interests with other projects or activities;
- A student doesn't need to know everything to be able to help;
- Everyone needs to have an opportunity to lead and feel important.
If someone does not have time to help during the class time, they can always lend a hand at the end. There is always something to be done, even something as simple as making sure everyone logged out of the computers.
At the end most class periods, I feel so proud of my students. Most importantly, I think they are proud of themselves and each other.
We get so much accomplished by working together.