When the going gets tough (#March), the tough get going (#10MinuteTuneup).

It’s that time of year when students are burned out because they’ve worked hard, and they have not had a break for a while. Winter break is a historic memory, and Spring break is a distant mirage. Valentine’s and Groundhog day just didn’t cut it. They need a spark. They need a jolt. They need a tuneup. A 10 minute tuneup.

Here’s how we do it:

After students have been in their groups for several minutes at the start of class, and they have their LSD on their desk (Learning Supplies and Devices), I bring up a one-slide PowerPoint that explains what they are going to do. It tells them that after I get done talking, their group will have 10 minutes to make sure that everyone in their group can Describe, Explain, and Give an example of two of the learning objectives that we are currently focused on (e.g. Identify and describe the constitutional powers of the president). We don’t know which group will get which learning objective, so they will need to be prepared for both.

After the 10 minutes have elapsed, one of the group members will be chosen randomly to go to one of the other groups to Describe, Explain, and Give an example to show their understanding of the learning objective they’ve been assigned to. The new group will assess whether or not their new member knows it. I set it up as “One pass. All pass. If not…” In other words, the person who is presenting their understanding to the new group is presenting on behalf of their old group. If they know it, then their whole old group passes. If they don’t, then the whole group fails.

At the beginning of the 10 minute period, students start to make sure that everyone is tuned up. They have an intense conversation using the vocabulary, and checking for understanding. They ask each other questions, they use their book and their notes and additional research to make sure that they know it, and that everyone else does too. They focus a lot of effort on who they perceive to be the weakest member of the group. I don’t tell them that. They decide. Nobody knows who will be chosen to go to the new group. The random selection ensures that everyone is focused (I’ve used alphabetical by first name, or second letter of last name, or next person to have a birthday, or person going farthest away for college).

After 10 minutes of preparation, a poor soul is sent to the new group. That student begins describing, explaining, and giving examples to show their understanding of the learning objective. This benefits the speaker, and the listeners who get to hear another student’s explanation of the content, and potentially new examples and ways of using the vocabulary in context. And it is information that has been vetted by, and practiced briefly with their original group. Most times the speaker will be teaching the listeners, and adding to their understanding. Sometimes the speaker is still not enough of an expert to accurately explain everything that is needed. That is the magical moment when the new group members (and sometimes the teacher) notice the struggle and begin to ask leading questions. They help each other.  In a wave of empathy, they are thinking, “There but for the grace of the alphabet go I.”

They take as much time as they need to explain what they need to, and at the end of the process (with a few minutes left in the class period), I stop them and go around to each group to ask if they passed. Thumbs up or thumbs down. Full disclosure (and don’t tell my students): nobody ever fails. Because they help each other, and they all learn along the way, I’m OK with that.

And there’s the added benefit that for about an hour my students intensely talked about the content, used the vocabulary, identified what they and others didn’t know, made sure that everybody knew it, showcased their learning, and learned that they are all capable of learning and sharing what they know. #eduwin

@jbretzmann