By: Sara Croll, author of Student Teaming: You Got This! A Teacher’s Survival Guide
If we want students to be successful working in truly rigorous, autonomous academic teams, we need to give them tools to help them work through the challenges that might occur. Students don’t usually come equipped with strategies on how to deal with disagreements and conflicts within teams.
Oftentimes, kids are so used to the teacher telling them what to do that they don’t know how to operate without that constant direction and guidance. But, if we give students specific ideas on how to politely disagree and push each other’s thinking, teams will begin taking ownership and becoming more self-regulated. This is at the very heart of creating student-centered classrooms.
In one high school classroom, I witnessed a team of students struggling through the analysis of a poem. As one student interrupted another, it was clear that there was a dominant student that was not only taking the lead, she was also discouraging the others from talking. The students in this class had assigned roles which they were not completely following during this task.
The “facilitator” in the group noticed the team was not on track and redirected his teammates by asking them to stick to the text for evidence and use the team norms when participating. There was surprisingly, no argument. The students re-focused their conversation and rich learning occurred with just that quick, student-led conflict resolution. The teacher did not step in, but rather stepped back.
Students will not immediately transform into these collaborative, respectful groups without frontloading by the teacher. This can be quite a shift in the beginning because the roles of teachers and students change in a teaming classroom. Students need to be prepared and need time to understand and practice team protocols.
However, the benefits far outweigh the time it takes. Teachers do less talking and less redirecting. Students regulate not only their own behavior but their teammates’ behavior as well and resolve their conflicts as a team, which are skills students will need in college and the workforce.
In my new book Student Teaming: You Got This: A Teacher’s Survival Guide, I outline more than 150 on-the-spot solutions and techniques for trust, behavior, academic, motivation and personality issues that may arise when handing over control to your students.
Here are three simple-yet-powerful strategies that can help students work in teams without having to always look to the teacher for support.
1) Assigning roles
Effective student teaming is not the same thing as group work. Teams have clear protocols and procedures, like the ones pictured below, that are designed to help students learn and communicate effectively.
Teams also have roles and share expectations for the work outcomes that are accessible to all the members. To ensure each team is working together successfully, the following two roles should be assigned (additional roles can be assigned, such as time-keeper, but are not necessary).
Enlist a facilitator for each team. This student will ensure that students participate equally by encouraging quiet students to speak up and helping active students to allow others to talk. He or she will ask guiding questions and ensure the discussion stays focused on critical content and task completion.
Assign someone as learning monitor. This student will help all teammates understand the success criteria at the beginning of the lesson and remind teammates to use the criteria as they work. He or she is also responsible for asking questions to see if the completed work meets the success criteria.
2) Accountable Talk
Use anchor charts and desk reminders to give students examples of how to share their thinking. By providing students with clear visual aids, they can refer to them as needed while working in their teams.
If a team is running into challenges, teachers can point them toward their resources instead of solving the problem for them. Students can lead their own teams and develop conflict resolution skills as they take ownership of their learning.
Remember to have these available for students at their level. For Kindergarten, you may want to use pictures instead of words. For high school, you could make these more content specific. These photos are examples of great ideas implemented in real classrooms.
Legos are an inexpensive and fun way to get kids talking with shared accountability in the team. Start by giving each member of the team a different color Lego. If there are 4 people sitting at the table, each may get 5 or so Legos (depending on the task). Once a student contributes to the conversation, they simply connect their Lego with the other teammates.
The Lego structure can sit in the middle of the team’s desks as a reminder of equal participation and building on each other’s ideas to encourage and promote team thinking. You can also objectively observe to see who is being a “hog” and who is being a “log.”
You might say: “But wait, my kids can’t handle Legos!” Give students the benefit of the doubt and let them try it before deciding their behavior can’t handle it.
Be very clear on expectations of using the Legos and the consequences if students begin throwing or playing too much with them.
Avoid whole-classroom punishments; if one team is struggling with using the Legos appropriately, simply have a clear conversation with that team or that member and replace the strategy with something less stimulating.
Watch Your Students Become the Teachers
As teams evolve, teachers will see that students begin to rely less on the formal structures put in place and will need less and less help from the teacher; student autonomy becomes authentic. Assigning roles, Accountable Talk charts and Legos help students develop habits and skills such as articulating their thinking, participating equally, building on each other’s ideas, and staying on topic.
Eventually students can do these things without having to think about them. Students push each other’s thinking and resolve conflict without the teacher facilitating every step of the way once the right teaming structures are in place and the students’ new skills and habits become second-nature. You will be amazed what kids can do when we let them!
Sara Croll and Deana Senn share more than 150 classroom teaming techniques in her book Student Teaming: You Got This! A Teacher’s Survival Guide.
Sara Croll, author of Student Teaming: You Got This! works in Research and Development and was an educator in Title 1 schools for ten years. She has taught elementary, middle, and high school and served as a literacy coach where she mentored and supported teachers. She earned her undergraduate degree at Loyola University Chicago, where she focused on service for others through philanthropy work with children locally and internationally. She earned a master’s degree in curriculum and instruction from the University of Phoenix and a master’s in educational leadership from the American College of Education. She joined Learning Sciences International in 2016, as the assistant to the CEO, working on special projects in the content team. For the past year she has been a part of the research and development team, where she keeps the needs of teachers at the forefront of her work. She has a focus on providing teachers with practical applications to see immediate impact in their classrooms. She has presented on topics ranging from teaming to using daily data in Professional Learning Communities to form instructional decisions.