When a team calls you over with a question, your first response should be to determine what the students need. Often, they simply need to be directed to ask members of the team for help, to read the problem, or to take note of a particular detail in the problem. If the question is more substantive, make an effort to ask a leading question or two that will help students resolve the question they initially asked. Asking the team to review with you what has been figured out so far, asking guiding questions, or suggesting that they review an idea that facilitates a solution may be all it takes to get a team moving forward. Sometimes a question may simply need to be answered, especially if it is a clarification of directions or process that we would not expect students to work through on their own.
When interacting with a study team, model the behavior you expect to see from the participants. Converse at their eye-level. Sit in a chair next to students, kneel on the floor, or for short stops, you can squat. Do not lean over. Students are used to seeing the teacher as the authority figure, and teacher intervention in a team discussion invariably changes the tone of the discussion. Be aware of how your body position projects you as an authority; putting yourself at the same physical level as students helps you to act as a catalyst for the discussion, instead of the source of answers. It also helps to keep the conversation under the control of the team members at the table (with you as a temporary team member), allowing you to extricate yourself from the conversation more easily as the team gets past its obstacle and is ready to move forward on its own.
Also remember that you can leave the study team with a question or in the middle of a discussion and come back later to check on its progress. You do not have to spend time telling anyone how to do the whole problem; once students have a way to get started, they can and should take responsibility for moving ahead. They may seek additional help later if it is needed.
As you circulate among the study teams, you are also assessing the general progress of the class on the assignment. At different times, different interventions may be necessary. For example, to quickly disseminate information to all teams, you can call all the Resource Managers over to “huddle.” In the huddle, they receive special information that they then share with their teams. Other strategies include stopping team discussions to clarify something with the whole class or asking one or more teams to share their results or methods with the whole class. Observe teams and use what you notice to guide clarification or summary in the lesson closure or to shape your introduction to the next day’s activity.
The teacher’s role in a study team setting is active and demanding. You will need to make dozens of decisions about how to intervene (or not intervene!) in the course of each class. You will have opportunities to question and share your experiences and math knowledge, but those will arise from what the students in particular teams need at a given moment. It is usually not appropriate to be seated at your desk as students are working in their study teams.