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Thursday, December 08, 2005

Critical friends

At yesterday’s faculty meeting, a group of teachers modeled the process of participating in a Critical Friends Group (CFG) in the context of Looking at Student Work (LASW). If you can get through the jargon, the combination of CFG and LASW provides a valuable pair of related techniques: educators help each other out in a collegial, even collaborative spirit, by examining what one teacher (the “presenter”) is trying to accomplish and by looking at the work of students in the presenter’s class. Note that “critical” in this context means that the friends are essential or important, not that they criticize.

In this particular exercise, the presenter was a fellow math teacher who was sharing student work on a game theory problem. The participants were teachers from all five of the major academic departments: math, science, English, history, and foreign language. Even though the math problem under consideration was interdisciplinary and involved reading and analyzing an article from USA Today, it was still difficult for non-math people to understand.

The process is highly structured — partly to reduce the likelihood of personal comments and the defensiveness that would surely result from such comments, and partly to ensure that talking is balanced by sufficient listening. It looked convincing to me. I would like to be a participant in such a group, but I wonder how it’s possible to understand one another’s discipline and values in order to make the process more meaningful.

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