A Group Activity Flop

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Lately, I have taught group activities that have fallen flat. My district uses the Unique Learning System and we were doing a lesson straight from the curriculum on the SmartBoard. In a nutshell, the lesson required the students to check boxes indicating whether certain items did or did not use electricity. There were three pages containing items from home, from school, and in the kitchen.

I multi-modally laid out the ways to tell if something uses electricity. I had actual objects on hand when possible. I talked, I sang, I basically tap-danced in front of the room to keep everyone’s attention.

The activity was a disaster. Everyone, students and assistants, tried to race through the lesson. People were talking over each other. Students did not engage with the actual lesson or material—they pointed to answers until an assistant or I gave them an ‘ok.’

I took a step back and just watched. Some students were sitting and stimming. Others were loudly talking or whining. Still others were pointing at answers and trying to read staff members’ faces until they thought they landed on a correct answer.

It wasn’t a group lesson at all. It had morphed into a carousel of staff members working 1:1 with students in a poorly designed lesson, with too much wait time and not enough student engagement.

I typically do three whole-class activities per week and I had the formula down pat last year. This year, the population has shifted—the attention span and ability level of my students has definitely increased. Additionally, fewer of my students have a formal diagnosis of autism.

As a result, I have rightly moved away from super-highly structured group lessons (technical term), but I have over-corrected. I need to re-establish some middle ground so that all students can engage meaningfully with the material, even if they are working on different skills.

I also need to make sure that I make my expectations for each student clear to the other staff in the classroom so they know what to focus on. Part of the reason the lessons have been failing is because the assistants and I are falling over each other trying to ‘fix’ it. If the design of the lesson isn’t any good, no amount of staff can right the ship during the lesson!

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