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Showcasing Melissa Goodwin and "WOW!"

"WOW! is part of a cooperative learning activity," Melissa Goodwin explained. "At the beginning of the year, my students and I brainstorm lists of what's great about working in groups and what's frustrating about it. Then we put together a list of ideal behaviors of members of a group."

The students' list usually includes several features, such as: one person speaks at a time, no one interrupts, everyone is polite, everyone calls one another by name, everyone is on task, and everyone participates. Goodwin and her eighth grade language arts students also compile a list of words to use to politely disagree or agree with others. Then they discuss how to know when to interject a comment and words to use to interject comments.

With the guidelines set, Goodwin's students at Sage Park Middle School in Windsor, Connecticut, are ready to work cooperatively in WOW! activities all year long. Goodwin uses the students' lists to direct their group work and monitor their progress, so no matter what the topic of discussion, students know their teacher's expectation for their groups.

Students talk about their reactions to an article about youth offenders who are treated as adults and placed in adult prisons.

"The students love it!" Goodwin told Education World. "Each week, they ask, 'When are we doing a WOW!?' They know I listen even when I'm not in front of their group, so they are on task the entire time. I keep a clipboard in front of me to write down their comments and behaviors, as well as to tally their time on task based on group goals. Students guide one another in discussions and ask questions of one another too."

In Goodwin's view, modeling is the key to WOW! activities because students need constant examples of the qualities of productive discussion. At the end of each session, Goodwin praises each group -- as well as individual students -- for interesting comments and notable behaviors and also provides suggestions to improve their work.

During a WOW! activity, Melissa Goodwin monitors a discussion at the introduction of the novel Holes.

"At the end of each marking period, students are given an opportunity to 'grade' me and give some constructive criticisms about the class," said Goodwin. "On the latest evaluation, a student wrote, 'I like how you let us be ourselves and say what we want during the WOW! activity. I know my group does not always agree, but we respect what everyone has to say.'"

When students are well practiced with WOW!, Goodwin doesn't need to intervene in their conversations, because they motivate one another to stay on task and participate. The WOW! activity is a student-centered one that Goodwin feels is time well spent. She is consistently impressed with how her students focus on the topic and conduct their discussions.

"My students are able to make points about literature that worksheets or lectures just don't convey," Goodwin stated. "The end result is a classroom full of students who are eager to discuss the content -- and actually have the skills to do so!"

Photos courtesy of Melissa Goodwin.

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected]

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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