Thank you for the insightful comments! Nancy, you are spot on about the modeling piece. That's always been one of my weak points; I tend to skip over that. So thank you for the reminder about "I do, we do, you do"!
I read this great book over the break, called "Schooled." It's a novel about a starry-eyed new teacher who enters the world of Manhattan private school. It probably would have found it funnier if I didn't find it all-too-familiar and depressing. It's yet another book about teaching where the main character finds acceptance and thus leaves teaching.
Anyway, the character was really into creating unique and fun activities and lessons, and it was another eye-opener for all the good teaching that I haven't been doing, or ever done. And then I ended up watching a couple pieces of the Dr Oz show. In at least one segment per show, he chooses a seat at random, and that person is the Assistant, and gets to come up and do some kind of hands-on thing (not anything terribly complicated even) about the topic.
These two things were quite an inspiration. It kind of made me feel down about all ways I haven't been involving students, but then I just figured I would use those ideas. Hence the small-group activities and also a hands-on social studies/art/science project. On Thursday, because Wednesday's test scores were mostly bombs, I had them do...center work, I guess. I rewrote each problem on an index card and put the problems of the same skill at each table. I put them into level groups, but I had them rotate individually. It was definitely somewhat noisy and chaotic, but just about everyone was on task, and for the most part, they were getting the problems correct! Plus they didn't realize that they were basically redoing the test from the day before. They also got to talk and help each other with the skills they had trouble with. At the end of the session, once they were back in their seats, I asked them to raise their hands if they understood more about the skills. Just about all the hands went up. Then I asked them to raise their hands if they were going to ace a new test the next. Up went the hands; some kids raised both!
The scores from Friday's retest were definitely better. Two got a hundred, two got in the nineties. One kid went from an 18 to a 75. A couple kids went from a single digit to a slightly larger double digit (like 3 to 11, or 8 to 14), which is still bad but hey, it still counts as improvement.
I also finally did two days of small groups stations for reading. They had to complete the tasks for the reading curriculum to be ready for the weekly test. That was harder and there was more off-task talking and goofing around, and most of the groups didn't finish the tasks. (I assigned three simple tasks for each station to be sure that no one would work too quickly, but it backfired a bit in that a couple of the tasks took the kids way too long.)
We'll see how much I can keep up the interactive stuff. Part of me feels that I can't be a good teacher without it, but then I remember that the small group stuff isn't actually instruction; it has to come after direct teaching.