Pull up a chair and join author Sara Croll and teacher leaders from Kathleen High School in Polk Country, Florida for a Q and A session. Read what happened after they implemented student teams using the strategies in Sara’s new book, “Student Teaming: You Got This! A Teacher’s Survival Guide”
Recently I had the privilege of working with an enthusiastic group of teachers implementing teaming in Kathleen High School in Polk County, Florida. After answering some of their questions, I thought it may be beneficial to share this learning with all of you who are trying out teaming in your classrooms. The best way to learn best practices is from each other!
Question 1: What are some examples of team-building activities that I can do with my kids?
Vote with your feet
If students are trying to make a decision based on what they read in text and on their own thoughts, then “voting with their feet” is a great way for them to show their ideas.
For example, let’s say students read about banning cell phones in schools. Instead of just talking about their opinions, have students get up and walk to: corner A, for everyone who votes yes on banning cell phones; corner B, for those that don’t want the ban; or corner C, for those that are undecided.
Each corner organizes their thoughts and chooses one person to speak on behalf of the team. After delivering their thoughts to the rest of the class, students can re-vote by walking to a different corner if they revise their thinking and want to change their mind. The teams can debate back and forth as a way to listen and learn about other’s viewpoints.
Allowing students to change their vote shows the importance of looking at the big picture and letting people make decisions based on text and on personal experiences. It is always neat to see some of the most passionate students reflect and possibly change their thinking. Being open-minded and being part of a team are life skills that students will need in the future.Being open-minded and being part of a team are life skills that students will need in the future. - Sara Croll Click To Tweet
Assigning roles within teams helps distribute accountability and ensures that everyone is contributing. One good idea is to have students with similar roles meet. As the students are sitting in their teams, the teacher can have all the facilitators meet separately in a group huddle. These students can talk about what it means to have this role, how to handle conflict, and get advice from others.
This allows students to feel like they are on a team of teams. They are the leader in their table team, but they also have a place with others amongst all the facilitators. Being in the team with like-roles allows them to learn best practices from each other and gives them another place to go for support.
Question 2: High-performing resisters- I have a few of these and I don’t know if I fully understand the “gem” idea. What are some examples of the structures I can use for high-performing students that are resisting the groups and going ahead?
In my book, I talk about using gems to facilitate team discussion. The gems allow students to have the chance to contribute to the discussion without feeling like they are taking over or not being heard. Each student is given a different color gem (other objects such as Legos, buttons, beads, etc. also work. Candy works too but unless you want to keep redistributing, I’d avoid this option.)
As each student speaks out, they put their gem in the center. As the teacher monitors, they can quickly see who is doing most of the talking or who is being left behind or purposely not contributing. Sometimes high performers will naturally want to take over. The gem idea allows high performers to see that everyone’s voice is important and that it’s not about one person doing the work while others copy, but about discussing the “why and how” behind the answers.
Having high-performing students support other students is a great way to keep them engaged and allow them to be successful. Peer coaching gives the high-performing students improved patience and collaboration skills, and it allows struggling students to hear content presented in a different way.
Get up and help
Another idea is to get your high-performing students to work with other teams. If you are using a monitoring technique such as colored cups or lights to indicate when a team is stuck, this is a perfect opportunity for your advanced students to get up and help other teams.
We don’t want our high-achieving students to feel they have mastered everything and there is nothing left to learn. We want to emphasize that learning never stops. They can deepen their knowledge and learn more from their peers.We don’t want our high achieving students to feel as though they have mastered everything and there is nothing left to learn. We want to encourage them that learning never stops. - Sara Croll Click To Tweet
It is important to keep these enrichment kids learning. Instead of having these kids go on the computer for extra independent time, have them support other teams or give them additional challenging tasks that allow them to stay in their teams but enhance the learning to the next level.
Question 3: I get frustrated when I am walking around, I am working with one group and I hear another group say “ I agree” just to move on and not have to think. What can I do for students when they aren’t going deep enough or just agree with what the “smart kid” says?
reflect, revise, refine
I never suggest additional work for the sake of keeping kids busy, but I do understand that sometimes students want to take the easy way out by just agreeing so they can move on. It is our job to keep them engaged.
Have students keep a notebook so they can record their thinking, share their opinions, and then possibly revise their thinking based on the conversation they have with their peers. This is a great way to ensure that everyone is indeed participating and pushing each other through thought-provoking conversations.
I would not have students simply copy everyone’s answers or take copious notes just to keep them on task, but rather teach students to think, process, reflect, share, revise, and finally refine their thinking. Having students record their thought process will show them how they have grown and what adjustments they have made due to the impact of their thinking.
Another way to get kids to expand on their thinking is to randomly call on teams to share out. Many teachers use popsicle sticks or a randomizer app just to make sure that they are not calling on the students who always know the answers or the ones who struggle.
When students are called on, they are expected to share out their response or their team’s response, but they can’t just say, “I agree.” Having students share out with why they agree, disagree, or if they have more to add is a great way to get teams talking.
Using cards with agree/disagree/more to add lets students respond to each other without the teacher having to call on each person. This response chaining gives students the autonomy to own the conversation and in an ideal setting, you won’t even notice the teacher!
Try any of the above strategies as you work teams into your daily routine. The skills you are teaching your students will go far beyond the walls of your classroom. As teachers, you are not just covering content, you are creating innovative, critical thinkers who will be expected to contribute in teams as they enter the real world. Be proud of everything you are doing!
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.