Pupils’ social skill development is the focus of Anne de A’Echevarria’s third e-bulletin on pupil team work, core to the QCA’s Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills frameworkpdf-5207802

Social Skills and related Roles.pdfpdf-5207802 Social Skills Centre exemplar.pdf

When teams fail, it is almost always for one of two reasons: the students don’t want to work together, or they don’t know how to work together – they lack the will or the skill to co-operate as a team. Last issue, we focused on the principles of team-building and strategies that can be used to help learners develop the will to work together during the lifespan of a team. In this issue and the next, we will look at ways to help learners develop the social skills that they will also need to deal with the challenges teams create.

The structured approach described below is inspired by the work of Spencer Kagan. It encourages learners to explore and develop key social skills, through finding ways of troubleshooting common teamwork problems for themselves. In so doing, they develop a sense of ownership over their own group processes, and learn to take responsibility for the successful development of their team through defining and experimenting with a variety of social roles.

Follow this link for an outline of common teamwork problems, related social skills, and corresponding social roles.

There are six steps in this approach. Below we describe steps 1-3; next week we will provide steps 4-6.

Step 1: Set up a Teamwork Skills Centre
A Teamwork Skills Centre is a prominent display area in the classroom – a place where you can record the ‘Skill-of-the-Week’ (see below), the associated ‘Role-of-the-Week’, plus related ideas about what your students can say and do to play that role successfully. These ‘tactics’ will be devised by the students themselves and should be displayed in a form that will allow for add-ons, storage and reuse. The display acts as an ongoing physical reminder – for students and teachers – of which social skill the class is working on. Once the chosen skill has been posted, it is referred to regularly.

Follow this link for an exemplar display showing ideas from Year 7 students relating to the role of ‘Gatekeeper’.

Step 2: Choose a Skill-of-the-Week
The Skill-of-the-Week that you choose will clearly be based on your observation of how the groups in your classroom are functioning. Ask your students what they think too – they are often very astute about which skills they are most in need of acquiring! (To prepare the ground, you could run an activity such as that suggested in Issue 11 to get them thinking about the difficulties presented by teamwork and generating their own list of the skills they are likely to need.)

Step 3: Introduce the Skill

There are lots of different ways to introduce the Skill-of-the-Week to students.

  • Give your own rationale for why the skill is important in everyday life. For example if ‘paraphrasing’ is the skill, you might provide a rationale such as: ‘In your life you will enjoy many different sorts of relationships – with teammates, friends, loved ones, work colleagues. One thing that will determine the success of those relationships is how much you show the other person that you know and understand what they are communicating. This is true whether or not you agree with them. Paraphrasing is one of the main ways we have of letting others know that we are listening, and that we understand their thoughts and ideas. It communicates respect. To develop everyone’s skill in paraphrasing, we will make it our next Skill-of-the-Week.’
  • Get students to discuss the importance of the skill in their teams and share their conclusions with the class as a whole. To do this you could use an ‘11/21/41’ activity, namely: When might the chosen skill be useful aged 11? How might it be useful aged 21? How might it still be useful aged 41? (Adapt the ages for different year groups.) Alternatively, get them thinking about how it might be needed by a member of a football team, a band, a family (or any other context involving teamwork).
  • Ask ‘What if?’ Get students to think about what would happen if the skill was never used: What would happen if we never listened to other people or were listened to? What would happen if we never showed appreciation when we valued what a person said or did? For ‘we’ you could also substitute people from different professions: What would happen if a team of builders could never focus on a single task for more than five minutes? What would happen if an investment banker never stopped to reflect on his strategy?
  • Use a ‘Secret Roles’ simulation where some groups are operating with and some without the role associated with the target skill. In the following example, imagine you want to introduce the skill of keeping focused and on-task and the related role of ‘Taskmaster’.
    • Prepare a challenging and motivating puzzle that you want teams to solve together.
    • Tell the teams that you are going to provide them with ‘secret roles’ (see the social roles download for possible examples).
    • Hand out a role card to each student and ask them to keep their role assignments secret and to not discuss them with their teammates. Make sure that in each team one student is assigned the spoof role of Off-Task Captain, but that only half of the teams have a Taskmaster. Do not share this information with the class! These two particular roles cards could read as follows:

Off-Task Captain: Try to get the group off the task. Without getting rowdy or disagreeable, attempt to distract the group by talking, now and again, about interesting things other than the puzzle. Do not let anyone on your team know your role and try to act in such a way that they do not discover your assignment!

Taskmaster: Your job is to keep your team focused and on-task. If anyone distracts the group, try to redirect their attention back to the task. You could try saying things like:

‘I’ve got an idea…why don’t we try…’ or ‘Let’s be the quickest!’ or ‘I need some help here…is this right?’ Keep your role secret so no one in the team discovers your assignment!

After the teams have completed the task, help students to reflect on what happened in their teams, how well they worked together, and whether they managed to stay focused on the task. It is (usually) very clear that those teams with a taskmaster spend much more time on task despite the best efforts of the Off-Task Captains!

Ask students to reveal their roles to each other and to talk about what they were trying to do, and what they noticed, on reflection, about what different tea m members were saying and doing.

The ‘Secret Roles’ simulation also generates a variety of ideas and suggestions about ho   w the Taskmaster can play their role successfully – these can be posted up in the Teamwork Skills Centre.

We will look in further detail, in the next issue, at how to help learners to fulfil their roles by exploring positive models of what to do and say. It is not the job of the teacher to instruct students in these verbal and non-verbal behaviours, but rather to lead the students in generating and recording their own tactics and ideas. See the next Learning and Thinking Skills for the final three steps of this structured approach to social skill development:

Step 4: Assigning roles and facilitating student-designed ‘Looks Like/Sounds Like’ tactics Step 5: Providing relevant reinforcement activities

Step 6: Encouraging student reflection and self/team evaluation related to a given skill

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2009

About the author: Anne de A’Echevarria is the author of the award winning ‘Thinking Through School’. Previously a teacher, PGCE tutor and head of ‘Thinking for Learning’, a research and development team partnered with Newcastle University, she now works as a freelance education consultant and writer.

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