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Teaching across the boundaries of nature and identity

Instruction

What do you get when multiple IslandWood field groups join forces to learn together? A supergroup!

What’s the purpose of supergrouping?

Although students arrive at IslandWood from their respective schools, here they are in this unique space and community together; each week a new group of students comes together as one IslandWood school. When field groups supergroup for a lesson, students are afforded an opportunity to learn about and from their peers at different schools. It is when we share ideas and build on those of others that we really start to understand, create, and innovate.

Sounds interesting… but will my students really be able to teach and learn from one another?

When your students are engaged in a supergroup lesson, you and your co-instructors are facilitating a peer-assisted learning experience. These lessons are powerful for your students because children are better suited to adjust their understanding and perception of something around the ideas of others in a similar developmental stage. In these settings, students are more inclined to examine and reexamine their ideas, which leads to higher levels of comprehension and reasoning. Finally, when learning involves social interaction with a peer, the content of the lesson involves a significant social motivation for each student, and in turn increases their level of accountability to understand the concept. While the benefits of teaching and learning from one’s peers are numerous, this type of  learning environment is likely to be new for many of your students. It is important to consider how you will support your students not only in learning the content within the lesson, but also how you will incorporate the opportunities for students to teach students authentically.

 I’m interested in supergrouping. How do I get started?

As you plan with your co-instructors, identify a lesson that allows students to draw from not only their IslandWood experience, but also their knowledge from school and other life experiences. Be prepared to share the goal with the group so that they know what they are working towards and why collaboration is so important. For example, “This week, we are going to work together to observe many of the ecosystems at IslandWood to discover how they are all connected! None of us will see all the ecosystems here at IslandWood, but together, we’ll learn from and teach one another about what we notice out there.”

The experience should pose enough challenge such that students feel compelled to ask their peers to share their input. Students will be drawn into the conversation when they have questions to ask and information to share. While the experience of meeting new people may be socially motivating for some students, others may be more shy and will need help from their instructors to break the ice. When the groups first come together, play a game that encourages students to share their name and allows them to begin to recognize the students in the other field groups. Finally, make the supergroup a priority in your week. Many students will be hesitant at first to work with students from a different school rather than someone they know from school. By providing students with multiple opportunities to interact with the students from the other groups, over time the whole group will become more cohesive. Start supergrouping on Monday, and come back to the group each day of the week.

Supergrouping is an exhilarating and collaborative experience for instructors, too! As you and your co-instructors plan for your supergroup lesson, be considering the following questions:

  1. How will supergrouping support students from each group achieve the learning targets?
  2. How will you support your students to feel safe, empowered, and accountable to teach and learn from their collaborators?
  3. How will your students’ age, existing level of understanding of a concept, home community, and other identities influence their ability to teach and learn from students from another school? How will I support ELL students or students with learning differences so that they too are successful in teaching and learning from their peers?

What do you get when multiple IslandWood field groups join forces to learn together? A supergroup!

What’s the purpose of supergrouping?

Although students arrive at IslandWood from their respective schools, here they are in this unique space and community together; each week a new group of students comes together as one IslandWood school. When field groups supergroup for a lesson, students are afforded an opportunity to learn about and from their peers at different schools. It is when we share ideas and build on those of others that we really start to understand, create, and innovate.

Sounds interesting… but will my students really be able to teach and learn from one another?

When your students are engaged in a supergroup lesson, you and your co-instructors are facilitating a peer-assisted learning experience. These lessons are powerful for your students because children are better suited to adjust their understanding and perception of something around the ideas of others in a similar developmental stage. In these settings, students are more inclined to examine and reexamine their ideas, which leads to higher levels of comprehension and reasoning. Finally, when learning involves social interaction with a peer, the content of the lesson involves a significant social motivation for each student, and in turn increases their level of accountability to understand the concept. While the benefits of teaching and learning from one’s peers are numerous, this type of  learning environment is likely to be new for many of your students. It is important to consider how you will support your students not only in learning the content within the lesson, but also how you will incorporate the opportunities for students to teach students authentically.

 I’m interested in supergrouping. How do I get started?

As you plan with your co-instructors, identify a lesson that allows students to draw from not only their IslandWood experience, but also their knowledge from school and other life experiences. Be prepared to share the goal with the group so that they know what they are working towards and why collaboration is so important. For example, “This week, we are going to work together to observe many of the ecosystems at IslandWood to discover how they are all connected! None of us will see all the ecosystems here at IslandWood, but together, we’ll learn from and teach one another about what we notice out there.”

The experience should pose enough challenge such that students feel compelled to ask their peers to share their input. Students will be drawn into the conversation when they have questions to ask and information to share. While the experience of meeting new people may be socially motivating for some students, others may be more shy and will need help from their instructors to break the ice. When the groups first come together, play a game that encourages students to share their name and allows them to begin to recognize the students in the other field groups. Finally, make the supergroup a priority in your week. Many students will be hesitant at first to work with students from a different school rather than someone they know from school. By providing students with multiple opportunities to interact with the students from the other groups, over time the whole group will become more cohesive. Start supergrouping on Monday, and come back to the group each day of the week.

Supergrouping is an exhilarating and collaborative experience for instructors, too! As you and your co-instructors plan for your supergroup lesson, be considering the following questions:

  1. How will supergrouping support students from each group achieve the learning targets?
  2. How will you support your students to feel safe, empowered, and accountable to teach and learn from their collaborators?
  3. How will your students’ age, existing level of understanding of a concept, home community, and other identities influence their ability to teach and learn from students from another school? How will I support ELL students or students with learning differences so that they too are successful in teaching and learning from their peers?
About the Author
Alex Guest
Author: Alex Guest

Alex is a graduate student working towards a Masters in Education at the University of Washington in partnership with IslandWood. She received a BA from Skidmore College in Environmental Science with a focus on land and wildlife conservation. Her teaching at IslandWood is inspired in part by several previous teaching experiences including teaching science in the classroom and leading outdoor youth leadership trips. Alex hopes to continue working with young people to encourage youth to always be asking questions and to develop scientific habits of mind.