Although I have been teaching team building to elementary students for many years, my learning in this area just never quits. So this year when pulling out my favorite group challenges and rounding up the necessary equipment, through conversation with my partner colleague I realized what I felt I was missing in the process: not enough time and attention dedicated to reflection at the end of a challenge. In response to that need I drew up a plan outlining 4 steps for the team-building process which my colleague and I posted in our teaching areas:
- Form a group.
- Understand the task.
- Solve the challenge. Try and try again.
- Celebrate and reflect: Talk about it.
This way it was clear to my students and to me that reflecting on what happened, how it happened, and what we learned from it was as important as solving the challenge itself. What I also realized was that certain structures and tools needed to be in place to allow the process to run smoothly and to have a sustainable impact. Successful student reflection requires:
- Time, especially for listening and for each person to have a voice.
- Conversation norms (i.e., raising hands, listening to each other, taking turns)
- Use of open questions starting with what, how, who, when. Use “Why” sparingly or not at all.
- Paraphrasing or duplication: relating back what someone just said.
- A reference point or points of how this learning relates to other topics
- Opportunities to practice reflection in the short term and one on one (i.e., after correcting or redirecting a negative behavior).
- Varied means and formats of expression (i.e., verbal, written, through art; publicly or privately)
What my colleague and I have found is that the conversations among students have grown increasingly layered over time. Our students can recognize and name behaviors such as blaming and supporting. They are able to acknowledge each other’s specific contributions to their collective success. They can also identify where they experienced roadblocks and define what got in their way. They learn to listen to each other. As they have grown accustomed to the types of questions which require them to actively recall, name and interpret their actions, their responses have become increasingly nuanced. Also, as I experimented with gathering feedback privately from individuals, my ELL students were able to share their thoughts with greater confidence.
Now, as our groups have moved on to other movement topics, the benefit of this approach is paying further dividends. After struggling to make co-ed groups for a game, I stop the class and ask: “What seems to be the trouble?” The responses often hit the nail on the head without much probing. Or before I release a class to go change, I ask them to tell me on their way out: “two things that made your team successful.” In both cases, students are able to articulate and safely share their take on a given situation. While not every child is anxious to speak up, I feel confident that every child is creating their own internal response; a process we call “thinking.”