Complex instruction. Great stuff with an intimidating name…at least when I first heard it. Complex instruction is a highly structured form of group work that is especially useful in mathematics classes. The purpose of complex instruction is to balance participation within groups. I can think about those times when I was put into groups and someone didn’t participate (or I didn’t participate), someone dominated the conversation (or I dominated the action), someone took over all of the materials (or I took over all the materials, and I know that everyone did not receive the same opportunity to learn within that task. Again, complex instruction is a means to interrupt the disproportionality in participation and increase everyone’s opportunity to learn.
I was able to learn about complex instruction through a conference in Atlanta, GA, where we learned more about how to structure a classroom to accomplish the goals of complex instruction, and to write tasks that are ‘group worthy’ and ripe for complex instruction. Below are some key resources regarding complex instruction.
Smarter Together! Collaboration and Equity in the Elementary Math Classroom Book that describes the principles of complex instruction and contains sample tasks for use in the elementary classroom.
Strength in Numbers: Collaborative Learning in Secondary Mathematics Book that describes principles of complex instruction and contains sample tasks for use in the secondary classroom.
CIMath: We are smarter together! Complex Instruction Mathematics Website for teathat contains Group Worthy Tasks (e.g. the Ordering Numbers Task) and some more information about complex instruction. This site was put together by the authors of the Smarter Together book.
Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom The original book that describes complex instruction, complex instruction tasks, and contains strategies to interrupt imbalances in participation.
Group-Worthy Tasks Article that succinctly describes the essential elements of a group worthy task (essential for enacting complex instruction).