Having students work in cooperative groups can be a nightmare! Often there is fighting, someone not doing his work, and/or group division. So how did I overcome this? (At least to large extent, I am not a miracle worker ;) ) Well, through trial and error of course! So here are some things I learned.
Our first inclination when a student comes over and immediately says, “So and So just________________me.” is to go and fix the problem so we can all get back to learning.
Right? Don't Do It!
Instead, call the other student over and make them face each other. Have the students talk it out. Most of the time you won’t need to say much, if anything. Sometimes though, you will need to guide your students in solving the conflict. But after a while you will hear the students begin to try to solve their own conflicts first. Save your sanity and teach conflict resolution while you are at it!
Group Rules and Consequence
Like many of you, I begin the year establishing boundaries through a class contract. Children need to know what to expect. (Remember your Harry Wong?) But groups must also know what to expect from each other.
Short Term Groups-
Have students discuss the goal before ever handing out materials for the task. Next, they can orally or write how they will achieve. Who will do what? If there are tools, who will use them? How will they take turns, etc. Once they have agreed to how they will accomplish the goal then give materials.
Long Term Groups-
Just like you would write a class contract at the beginning of the year, have your group write some “rules”, “agreements”, etc. to guide their group work. The first few times you should definitely walk your groups through this process or you might get some superfluous rules (i.e. Everyone must wear pink on Tuesdays.).
Next, I would have your groups establish a series of consequences. For example, a group verbal warning that a student isn’t follow directions. On the second violation, a student may be asked to hand over an item of distraction, give up a privilege, etc. (At my school, their ipads were usually the culprit. But it may be a toy, book, etc.) The third violation the group may vote that the student should have a meeting with Mrs. O. Notice that I didn’t have to step in until after the group had met three times. Most of the time, I had made my rounds during group work and already met with the group/student before it ever reached a point that they voted.
Groups kept these contracts in a folder with their group work.
At the beginning of each time you switch up groups, do some role playing to test out their conflict management. Type up some situations you are seeing in your classroom (with fake names, details, etc.) and give them to the new groups. Have the kids share how they would solve the problems. Next, have them create skits, comics, posters, songs, etc. to promote the acceptable behaviors. It may seem a little silly to them, but it’s much easier to practice this skill when no one is truly angry and allowing for creativity at the beginning of a group allows other students to see each others strengths!
Be sure to select books every now and then that show characters with admirable qualities and great cooperative skills. Spend a few minutes reflecting on the qualities you liked and how the conflict was solved. Reading books like this will help establish that culture, I promise!
Recognize and Compliment
Have a space in your room to celebrate kindness, cooperation, and good work! Your students will start to look for things others are doing well. And one of the fastest ways to get a rowdy class until control is to compliment an on task student. We all like a pat on the back. I know I do! Your kids will too.
Books to use to teach about cooperation and collaboration:
Being a Friend:
Do Unto Otters, Scaredy Squirrel Makes A Friend, Nerdy Birdy
Being an Individual:
Stand Tall Molly Lou Melon,
A Bad Case of Stripes,
Cooperation/Your Actions From Someone Else’s Perspective:
The Day the Crayons Went on Strike,
Cowboys vs. Pirates
Hey Little Ant, Stone Soup,
Princess Justina Albertina
The Giving Tree,
How to Get What You Want:
Who Flung the Dung?
Those Darn Squirrels!
Pig the Pug
Marlene, Marlene the Queen of Mean
Responsibility/ Problem Solving:
The Wump World,
Iqbal and the Ingenious Idea
I used these books with third to fifth graders. So, do you have any suggestions or books you like?