Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Building Powerful Teams in Cooperative Learning Groups

To have a collaborative classroom you must have a safe environment.  To have a safe environment, you must have team building activities, and often.  My students began the week seated in new teams.  The teams are strategically chosen by me.  There are many components to how the teams are grouped,  but one of the requirements is that great friends are not at the same table.

So how do you create a safe environment when the students in your class are strangers in the first months of school?  You must team build and often!  So day 1 of the first week in new teams I had the students do an icebreaker activity.  They just had to answer get to know you questions and have a good time together.  Day 2 is today.  Today we set our boundaries regarding what type of behavior and character traits were to be accepted and promoted. 

To begin with I put a large sheet of butcher paper on the table and had the team captain draw a rectangle in the middle and four diagonal lines to create a middle section and four personal spaces for each team member.  Then each group member quietly, without sharing, wrote team rules that were important to them.  This is what is shown in the picture above. 
Next is time for team collaboration.  One member shares their most important team rule. One of the rules this team chose is "Don't laugh at each other."  Each teammate  then shows with a thumbs up if they think this is a good rule for the team or a thumb to the side if it is not a good rule.  If there is not group agreement then the captain opens up a short discussion to express their opinions on the rule and negotiate.  Then the captain holds one last vote.  If everyone says yes, then the rule gets written in the center rectangular area.  As you can see from the picture the team decided that the rule "Don't laugh at each other" was a keeper. 

For this team building activity to work you need to have complete buy in from the members and everyone needs to feel equally important.  If you can get the team rules created at the beginning, then it will be easier to manage team blow ups when they occur.  You sit the team down and show them the agreement they made together regarding team expectations.  It is harder for them to argue against a rule they themselves agreed upon.  Students feel safer in an environment when they have created the rules and expectations. 



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