So here's the thing... teachers teach (last time I checked anyway). This is what we do. We instruct, we demonstrate, we model, and we break down the steps to everything. My question is then, why do we expect children to just be thrown into a group and know how to interact?
Group work is something that is learned through practice like anything else. There is no doubt about that, and let's be honest, how many adults do we know who can't work in a group? It's not an easy task. It also isn't an impossible task, and it's time that we as teachers TEACH group work skills.
The best way to do this... Cooperative Learning!
Crash Course in Cooperative Learning:
For those who might not know what this is, the very very basics is working together. It is through group activities that students learn "HOW" to work together, share the work, and communicate at the same time. As teacher, you now have both an academic goal and social goal in mind. This is what we want isn't it? We want our students to work together, and through this style of learning, now they have some direction instead of just sending them to "work it out" with no real skills to do so.
Cooperative Learning Cards:
So here's the most basic of strategies. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to cooperative learning cards from an amazing colleague of mine, and I have been using them ever since.
The concept is simple:
Each student in a group is given a job. This way they have accountability for their part in the group. Each card describes a role and even shows students "how" they might speak. Sounds a bit much at first, and trust me for high school students you will get some serious sarcasm, but teaching students how to speak appropriately is so important for communication. I can't even begin to think about how many times I have worked in groups (even with teachers) who can't communicate OR who speak without thinking. We all know tone and wording changes meaning, and it's time we have students practice accountable talk.
The roles range from practical (Time Keeper, Materials Monitor, and Recorder) all the way to the more social roles (My personal favourite... The Encourager). The cards are to be reused and students should experience new roles each time. After finishing, self-reflections and group reflections are key for students to think about what they can do better and how. Reflections can be painful, and often students will put what they think the teacher wants to hear, but regardless it allows students to pause and for a brief moment consider THEIR role from another's perspective.
You can use this for almost any age group. I personally have used it with 9 year olds all the way to 17 year olds. It keeps students accountable for their actions and their words. It exposes them to new roles that they may not have taken on by simply "working it out," and it keeps them engaged. Substitute teachers, please bring them wherever you go!
If you aren't convinced, try it yourself! There are so many resources out there, and activities which you can introduce to your class. Feel free to check out my cooperative learning cards (like the one above) HERE!