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The Benefits of Group Work

January 18, 2023 | Brent Harris

The Middle School Students are no strangers to group work. After being subjected to so many group assignments and projects, students eventually find themselves to be comfortable when tackling their responsibilities in groups. This is the case in their single-grade classes like Language Arts, but it is also the case in their afternoon milti-grade classes. 

Students are regularly tasked with bigger group projects to accomplish. Recently in Science, 6-8th graders were split up into groups and were asked to complete a project where they report on a certain set of celestial objects. In these groups, there is an unspoken dynamic where the 8th grader takes on a certain responsibility and the younger students learn how to navigate group work and bigger assignments by watching the 8th grader in action. Slowly, over the course of the two years of being in these teams, students work into this role of being an 8th grade leader by watching those who came before them do it. As a teacher who has now been at MSS for five years, it’s amazing to watch the slow and steady transition. Sometimes student growth comes on quickly, but other times it’s a slow burn. After so many times being exposed to these multi-grade groups, students learn the ropes:

How do I manage my time appropriately?

How do I maintain a certain level of persistence when given time to work in class?

How do I make quick decisions and think realistically about what our final product should look like? 

How do I stand in front of the class and speak without being terrified? 

How do I hold people accountable to a high standard while also extending grace when necessary? 

By the time students find themselves in 8th grade, they have mastered these skills, and are then prepared to go off to high school and share their strengths with their new communities. It isn’t easy to get to this point, though; in fact, it regularly requires a certain number of critical errors and bumbles to get to a point of comfort when given a multi-grade group assignment. But the students eventually figure it out. 

This set up, this multi-grade group dynamic, is an excellent way for students to grow in their academic and social ability. The teachers can get in front of the students and explain the best way to approach a group assignment, but the students themselves hold much more power over how these things play out than the teachers do. And our 8th graders have proven time and again to be responsible in this quasi-leadership position. And I’ve been watching the 6th and 7th graders get closer to being prepared for that position as well. 

 

This was particularly on display over miniterm when students were placed in multi-grade fantasy book clubs and asked to complete a number of things in response to their book. They needed to fill out a schedule for reading their books, and then they needed to complete a big final project that involved drawing, acting, writing, and speaking. It was a significant portion of work and required fine-tuned planning and real follow through from the students. Without a sense of direction and responsibility, these groups would never have accomplished the things they did. 

Mustard Seed School is a school of learners, and a significant part of that culture comes from our desire to accomplish big tasks, and do so together. It’s no coincidence that at the top of Mustard Seed School’s Mission, readers see the words “To Know and Care Together.” 

Brent Harris

Teacher, Grade 7; Language Arts, Seventh and Eighth Grades

Brent Harris has been teaching Middle School students since 2015. He loves teaching students how to understand the world through literature and writing. He teaches English Language Arts, but he likes to teach other things too! Both of Mr. Harris' parents are educators, and despite trying his hardest to avoid following in his parents’ footsteps, he graduated from Calvin College with a Bachelor of Arts with a Major in English Education and a Minor in Physical Education; as a result, Brent is a great argument piece for any “Nature versus Nurture” debate.

In addition to teaching, Mr. Harris enjoys playing guitar and drums, listening to music, spending time outside, playing sports, and hanging out with his kind and loving wife, Lauren. A native of Ontario, Canada, Mr. Harris stays true to all the Canadian stereotypes by being extremely kind and perpetually sorry. He has been a director and counselor at multiple children’s camps in Canada and Michigan, and he appreciates the idea of teaching students and campers in a place where there is freedom to entertain new ideas and try out new things. Mr. Harris has enjoyed coaching volleyball, soccer, and baseball, and while he loves nature, he is being slowly converted into a city boy.

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