Speed Sharing – a non-threatening alternative

Student writing is often read only by the student and teacher. Or, if it is shared, the student may be asked to read to the entire class, which is a nerve-racking experience for many pupils.

We've found there is a better, quick paced, non-threatening way for students to share their writing and research with each other, whether it be a hand-written paper, a word-processed then printed document, or work done on a tablet device.

This technique can be used with students aged nine or 10 through to adult learners. We call it ‘Speed Sharing' and it has been a great success with many of our students of varying ages and grades.

Speed Sharing room arrangement

Three, four or five presenters-sharers are chosen to begin the process. The room is arranged with presenters on different sides of the room, facing in. Non-presenting, ‘listening' students form into small groups and sit in front of one of the presenters, almost knee to knee. Figure 1 is a sketch of how a class of 25 students would be arranged for the first round of a Speed Sharing session.

The new staffroom at Macgregor Primary School

The mechanics – rotations and every minute counts

We usually allot four minutes for each sharing session. Teachers can use three minutes or five, but four minutes usually works well. As skilled teachers know, much sharing can occur in four minutes; many papers can be summarised and questions asked and answered, without rushing, in this amount of time.

Assuming your sharing period is four minutes, at the two minute mark the teacher tells the group ‘Your time is half over—two minute warning!'. When four minutes have passed ‘time up' is announced and the sharing stops, but only for a minute (and by a minute we mean 60 seconds and no more!). During that minute, the students who have been listening to a presenter rotate to another presenter, with the presenters not moving; they stay put in their ‘presenter chairs'. Then the next sharing stint promptly begins and again lasts for four minutes.

There is not enough time in our standard 50 minute public school class period for every student to present to every other student during a Speed Sharing exercise. For example, a class with 25 students would need five rotations of 25 minutes each (five, four minute presentations with a minute break as listeners move to the next presenter) for all students to hear each other. And five 25 minute rotations would take more than two hours. But there is time in a 50 minute class for each student to share his or her writing with two small groups of listeners.

For a larger class size in a small classroom, the presenters may rotate instead of the listeners. Having the presenters move with a large class size will prevent wasted time to reseat all listeners. Having the presenters move may also help with classroom management for some groups, since fewer students will be physically moving around and having to settle down.

Speed Sharing settings

We've found that Speed Sharing can be used in schools from Grade 3 onwards, and at a tertiary level. The procedure is fun, engaging and adaptable. Here are some examples of the different ways we've used Speed Sharing.

Speed Sharing written work in Elementary School: The written piece may be as varied as a paper about Guglielmo Marconi or a description of how to do a mathematics problem. In our experience, it is best if the writing is discussed, and not read word for word to classmates. Listeners in this informal setting are free to ask questions, make comments and encourage their peer presenter who is sharing his or her work. Speed Sharing allows the teacher to walk around the classroom, listening to the details each student is presenting to peers. Since the teacher is close to the small groups, is it easy to assess presenting skills and it also tends to lead to good classroom control.

Speed Sharing research in High School: Doing research in class, on laptops, is now a common occurrence. Speed Sharing works well as students do research, then talk about it with peers. Examples of using this technique at high school include researching different leaders in history, then sharing facts that were found. Or, we have used the procedure in Agriculture class to share and explain, on screens, different types of diseases that can threaten a horse's health. High school students' feedback about the technique was very positive. Many of the more reserved students told their teacher they prefer Speed Sharing over traditional presenting, because they did not feel intimidated by having to talk to the large class.

Speed Sharing in Graduate School: One of your authors has been using Speed Sharing in Educational Leadership graduate level programs in Houston, Texas, for several years. It has been used to share papers about professional organisations, interviews done with administrators, decisions made when facing difficult school scenarios and various other short papers required for courses. The Speed Sharing exercise is a fast moving, collegial experience that is rated very highly by graduate school participants. Many of these graduate students, who are teachers, have taken the idea back to their own classrooms and used it successfully.

Why it works

In our experience, Speed Sharing tends to be very popular with students. Reasons include:

  • A strong, though unstated, message is given that student written work is valued and is worth sharing with others;
  • When students know that they will be talking about their writing or research with peers, the quality of the work tends to improve. Many students do not want to be embarrassed by having to share sub-par work;
  • The pace is fast; students are active; time goes by quickly. When using this technique, we have received what is among the best compliment pupils can pay a teacher, ‘That class went fast!'; and,
  • Students are engaged; discipline issues are rare.

Give it a try! You can make it work for your classroom and your students, who you know very well. Have your students share their work with each other in a fast-paced, engaging exercise called Speed Sharing.

The authors of this article begin by pointing out that ‘student writing is often read only by the student and teacher’. How often do you allow students to share their work with a wider audience?

Think about the last time you asked students to present their work to others. Did the process achieve what you wanted it to? What were the challenges? How could you experiment with and change the process to address some of these challenges?