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“I don’t feel like my group is hearing me.”

This could be the sentiment of most any adult debriefing after a challenging day at work. It was actually something heard by teacher Jim Parker in Mack-Boulder’s fourth grade classroom. One of his students was having a challenging moment during a collaborative work session.

Jim and other Mack-Boulder teachers are very intentional about integrating Social Emotional Learning (SEL) into their curriculum. In the fourth grade’s most recent Unit of Inquiry, Ancient Greece, instead of having the students only working individually, Jim broke them up into four groups based on city-states of ancient Greece. The students worked together in these small groups to complete many tasks such as: research the attributes of their city-state, design representative flags, create and perform a short presentation to teach the other students about their city-state, and design and build a model of a Greek temple dedicated to an agreed upon god or goddess. Each day, a different leader was designated to guide the group in accomplishing the day’s task.

Working in these small groups not only helps his students develop skills they will use for their whole lives (collaboration, self-advocacy, communication, resiliency, empathy, etc.), but it can actually help history come alive for the students. By putting on their chitons (garments worn by the ancient Greeks) before each U of I period and then joining their city-state to, for another example, design and build Trojan horses using recycled objects, the students can achieve a greater understandgreekpicing of who the ancient Greeks were and what they experienced. Indeed, one of the highlights of the unit was the Olympics put on by the third and fourth grade teachers; all of the city-states in the two grades came together to experience foot racing, “javelin” and “discus” throwing, and even some catapult designing/testing. (In keeping with the SEL integration, the events were focused on fun and cooperation rather than score-keeping.)

Jim and other Mack-Boulder teachers also provide scaffolding for the collaborative process by beginning each morning using Responsive Classroom morning meeting techniques to help the students practice leading a group, listening, taking turns, asking questions, being active listeners, and more.

Additionally, the teachers are skilled at providing support for students as they experience the ups and downs of learning those crucial SEL skills. Sometimes it is sitting with a group as they walk through what the democratic process looks like for the third time in one period; other times it is celebrating when a group debriefs on its process and is able to articulate what worked well and what they’d try differently next time. Sometimes it is helping a student to realize the difference between not being heard by his group and being heard but still not getting his way… and how to move forward productively regardless.



Mackintosh Academy Littleton