Order in the Court

This week marks the end of the quarter, and you know what that means: nine weeks tests!

The only one I ever stress out about is the test for my English I students, because that's the only one that I don't make, so I don't know what's on it, and (in my opinion) these tests are never well-written and seem designed to trick the students into giving the wrong answer. Also, test scores go on my record. So, obviously, I get worried.

I tried a new review strategy last Thursday, which comes partly from my grad class's discussion of literature circles and partly from an idea I had when I was trying to fall asleep Wednesday night.

I divided the students into groups of four. Mostly I divided them by ability level and work ethic. Some students work better when they aren't with their friends, and some get more work done when they are working with friends, so I tried to take that into consideration as well.

Each of the four people in the group had a job--that is the part that comes from literature circles. I equated the jobs to occupations found in the courtroom--that is the part that comes from my insomnia. I wrote each of the roles on the board with two jobs listed, one was the responsibility of the person in the courtroom, and one was the explanation of how I translated that within the group.

It goes like this:

Basically, the questions on the test serve as "the charges."

One person in the group is the Bailiff, who reads "the charges" (the questions) to the rest of the group.

Another person is the Court Reporter, who writes down the answer that the group selects.

Another person is the Defense Attorney, who has to defend the answer (tell why they chose that one).

The last person is the Judge, who keeps "order in the court" (keeps everyone on-task).

Finally, every person in the group serves a dual role as members of the Jury, who have to consider the "evidence" (the potential answers) and decide which is the correct one.

We went through a couple of questions as a class, and then I set them to work. I was very pleased with the results. As I walked around and listened to the groups, it was clear that they were actually discussing rules and definitions they knew, that they were explaining to each other why answers could be right or wrong, and those who were at a higher level were doing an excellent job of helping their group members who were at a lower level.

Only one group really disappointed me (and I admit, I put those particular students together because I knew they would not take the assignment seriously). The other groups did a great job, though. There is one girl in particular who hates every single thing we've ever done in class, and she was right in the midst of her group, arguing and defending and explaining and leading. I was surprised by how much she took to it, actually. It gave me hope.

I was completely shocked by how well this activity worked. This year, I have tried a ton of different strategies with this class, but none of them have been a resounding success, and I have been disappointed more times than I can count. That I have finally introduced something that WORKS is not only a high achievement for me, but also a giant relief. I guess I'll see on Tuesday if they retained anything.

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