As I prepared for the 2020-21 school year I wondered how I would create the connections between and with students to create community in our classroom. I had learned about affinity groups and their power for connecting people with common interests. I wondered if using affinity groups in my classroom and in breakout rooms would increase student enagement and connection?
For the last year, students have been experiencing school with limited connection to their peers, teachers, and learning community because of the Covid-19 pandemic. From March to October 2020, students attended school virtually. Everyone, students and adults, felt the isolating effects of the shelter in place orders. Eventually, students were able to return to school for a limited time each week with strict social distancing guidelines. Classes were taught using a hybrid model which had students in class virtually alongside students that were in person. The typical middle school social interactions were not happening. There was a disconnect between the virtual students and in-person students. The purpose of this study was to explore the impact of affinity-based collaborative groups in breakout rooms as a vehicle to create connections between students to encourage social interactions, especially between virtual students and in-person students.
In addition to the stressful and isolating circumstances of the pandemic, the school of study had also lost its teaming structure due to a scheduling glitch. Usually students would be in interdisciplinary teams of 160 students shared between four core teachers. Teaming creates a school within a school model and helps students feel belonging as they share teachers and classes with the same 160 students. This year the students were randomly placed in classes with no team identification. Teachers, as well as students, struggled to get to know each other.
"People create a bond with others who share similar likes, dislikes, hobbies, and so forth. This common affinity allows a point of connection beyond any obvious racial, class, or linguistic differences. This plants the seed of connection in the relationship." Zaretta Hammond
My research tested affinity groups as a strategy for increasing connection and engagement between students. Social-emotional competencies were the focus of this action research and you can learn more about the five SEL competencies presented by CASEL by going tothe Standards page linked at the top of the pgae. If you would like to more about how to implement affinity groups in your educational setting, check out the How-To and Lessons tabs at the right. The Assessment page includes the surveys I used with my students and are available for you to copy and get feedback from your own students when you implement affinity groups. The References page is a list of all the incredibly useful websites, books, podcasts, and blogs that have transformed my teaching. Don't miss this list of treasures!