Grouping with Neurons in Mind

neuronsI was recently reading Kathy Sierra’s blog on negative people being bad for the brain. The section on mirror neurons got me thinking about how we group our students when we want them to work collaboratively.

There is so much talk around heterogeneous versus homogeneous grouping, specifically in math and reading. If we focused on what we know about mirror neurons it seems to me it would make sense to heterogeneously group students.

Let’s assume a student, Jim, has no behavior challenges, is putting forth effort, and is still performing below grade level.  Grouping Jim with a high achieving student should positively benefit Jim, based on what we know about mirror neurons. The question that then comes to mind for me is what does the higher achieving student gain and would this student benefit more from being with another high performing student, rather than Jim? Is the teacher then the model of a higher achieving student for that child? How do we ensure that all students have a model for them to mirror, specifically in subjects in which they need improvement?

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  1. #1 by Peggy VIllars Abadie on January 24, 2009 - 8:13 am

    Your question is valid and difficult to address in the context of a classically designed classroom like the one you may be imagining. However, in the classroom we truly need (student centric/project based) it is not difficult to imagine that Jim would be free to participate in multiple groupings depending on the need he perceives as he drives his learning and exists in the community of learners around him. Much like a blogger’s experience in that many conversations take place in many disparate groups, Jim would be the top of the heap in some interactions. the middle of the road in others and the lost soul in yet others. In the classroom where the teacher artificially constructs the groups for the outcome the teacher desires, the groupings are helpful only to the extent that the teacher is able to imagine the desired outcome. However, in the community of learning that takes place in the classroom we would all like to experience, the teacher will focus on setting the goals of the class and facilitating navigation by guiding lost souls to seek out middle of the road travelers when appropriate and top of the heap members when advisable. At the same time the teacher is charged to cultivate the top of the heap members to realize that it is a position they only hold under certain circumstances and that social positives occur as they are willing to aid the balance of the community when they are the top so as to gain aid when they are not. Thus the teachers shifts in role as the purveyor of all things worth knowing and owning to the role of societal architect. The teacher will be observant and armed with many assessment outcomes so as to know where in the society (top of the heap, middle of the road, lost soul) each of the students is on any given topic in the course. They will use this knowledge to influence productive collaborations throughout the learning experiences taking place in the course they are facilitating.

  2. #2 by Amy Smith on February 10, 2009 - 4:06 pm

    Peggy,
    Thank you so much for your reply and for the words of wisdom. Here is another question.
    I have recently been doing a lot of work with Florida Virtual Schools. What are your thoughts on the power of collaborative learning as it relates to an online, mostly individual, learning environment?

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