Upending Power Dynamics with Visibly Random Groupings

Small moves that help challenge societal beliefs about math and ability help create a culture of equity
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About This Strategy

Often in the effort to differentiate and support students, we can reinforce structures of inequity and a culture of power resting in our math classrooms with teachers and advanced students. Grouping students randomly is a public and tangible way to reinforce that all students' math thinking is valuable to the group. Research has shown that this approach, over time and and employed consistently, can change student mindsets about working and learning with others in a math space. Peter Liljedahl's research in particular showed improvements over time with:

  • Students feeling comfortable with working with others.
  • Elimination of social barriers within the classroom.
  • Knowledge sharing between students increases.
  • Reliance on the teacher for answers decreases.
  • Reliance on co-constructed answers increases.
  • Engagement in classroom tasks increase.
  • Students become more enthusiastic about mathematics class.

In this strategy, teachers can support students to effectively engage in visibly random groups and espouse values that create a power sharing dynamic and structure that is actionable and concrete.

Implementation Steps

1. When creating visibly random groups, design your system with your students in mind and upending power dynamics as a goal. In a class discussion, ask your students, "What are the some of the current power dynamics in our classroom? How did they form?"

2. Introduce the rationale for creating visibly random groups with your students. Consider naming the goal of random groups with students -- that everyone can contribute to the math thinking of the class, and learn from different approaches.

3. Engage in a practice round of making groups visible by randomly assigning students to groups.  Support students to reflect on the process afterward by talking in their group about what they liked or were unsure of with this approach.

4. As students work in groups again, consider debriefing with students by asking them questions such as, "What does being able to have visible random groups well say about us as a class? What challenges can we overcome later?"

Group Randomizer - ClassDojo and Flippity

There are many tools that can make the random groupings visible but also a quick exercise for you and students. Some of the best are ClassDojo and Flippity.

For ClassDojo, simply create your class and use the 'toolkit' to randomize groups with varying sizes. Students will see this take place on a projector or class screen, and help them organize and connect with their peers.

For Flippity, make a copy of this template. (You'll need to sign-in with your Google account. You can edit student names and publish your spreadsheet. Click the 'Get Link Here' tab at the bottom of the template to access the website. Then, you can simply select the number of student per group at the top of the screen, and it will automatically generate groups for you and students to see.


Math Consultancies

One of the needs for visibly random groups is to upend the long documented social organization and 'othering' of math students, particularly students of color. One approach to visibly random groups is to create math consultancies. In this approach, students are randomly assigned to new visibly random groups daily or weekly, or when the lessons most call for grouping.  At the end of the day or period of time, the students in the consultancy should reflect on how their consultancy contributed to their learning.

Algebra Lesson Example

15 minutes

In this lesson, students are working towards comparing measures of center and standard deviation of data sets.  The warm up is designed to help students use math language to informally compare different distributions. In this section, the lesson calls for grouping students in groups of 2-4. This is a perfect example of an opportunity to use speed dating or other visibly random groups to get students to hear and compare the math thinking across their room.