Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Making Teams That Work

Documenting one class' approach to creating online courses for students by students...

Making groups isn't easy as a teacher. You try to balance the boy/girl ratio, abilities, special needs, interests, and everything else that might affect the group dynamic. You want your students to be successful when working as a team rather than spending more time about who's going to do which job. 

Our class previously had discussions about the needs for diverse teams as part of our design thinking cycle during our inventions unit. Basically what it came down to is 'your best friend isn't necessarily your best teammate'. We talked a lot about how we need to have groups with different abilities, talents and most importantly different perspectives. Different perspectives were important so that each teammate could look at the challenge from a different view and give unique insight to the team, which would be in turn push the thinking more within the group more. In terms of making groups, I usually allow my students to create their own as long as it's diverse and is a group that can be productive, which usually works out as my students enjoy that freedom to choose.

This time I decided to have a slightly different approach to the team building process. I outlined 8 jobs that that thought might be useful in the group throughout the project. Each job had some expectations.

1. Leader - Overall leader of the group but not the 'boss'. Makes sure group is moving forward. Communicates challenges to the teacher.
2. Encourager - Stays positive. Encourages others to participate, share and work as a team.
3. Materials Minder - Gather materials as needed.
4. Time Keeper - Use the timer to help the group be aware of time. Provide the team 5-minute warnings, etc. when the time is coming to an end.
5. Organiser - Helps to organise team documents and items.
6. Techspert - Provides tech support and guidance to those in need.
7. Task Minder - Makes sure everyone is on task and focused.
8. Planner - Helps to lead the group in what's next for the group.

After I shared the different tasks and we discussed each one, I had students rank themselves on a scale of 1 to 5 with 1 being an area of growth and 5 being a major glow. Based on their glows and grows, it was easy to see students strengths and areas of development. This was very important to self-identify in order for making a successful team. I asked students to star the roles they had identified themselves with a 4 or 5.

We discussed that we all have areas of growth and strengths. It is important to surround ourselves with people who are stronger than us in our areas of growth and still working on things we are strong with. This will allow us to learn from each other.

The next task was for students to find a group of 4 that was diverse. The students self-identified as a 4 or 5 in a range of the areas in order to make their group. At first, I wasn't sure the students would really buy into this and just choose their friends but once we began, they were really looking at each others' lists and saying things like 'I'm sorry we are too much the same to work with each other' and 'We aren't alike so we should be in a group'. The groups worked out really well for the most part. 3 of the 4 groups are quite all around strong and diverse. The 4th group is a generally lower ability and will just receive a bit more teacher support in the end.

I wanted the team to bond a bit so I gave them some tasks - 1. Create a team name, divide the job and make a team chant or handshake. This was simply done as a way to watch the children interact with each other but primarily to build collaboration, communication and a sense of a cohesive team.

We've been working in the teams for a few days now and I haven't had any issues with any groups in terms of teamwork. Actually, I've had the opposite - many of the groups are more productive than the students when they work individually. In addition, my students are taking their roles quite seriously and I always have 4 timers in front of me within seconds of being set off to work to synchronise our timers. It will be interesting to see if these groups continue to grow in productivity as our time on the project goes on.

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