This Learning and Thinking Skills completes the focus on a structured apporach to social skill development, based on the QCA’s Personal, Learning and Thinking Skills strand, ‘Team Workers’

Last time we looked at the first three steps of this structured approach:

  • Step 1: Set up a Teamwork Skills Centre
  • Step 2: Choose a Skill-of-the-Week
  • Step 3: Introduce the skill

This week we will look at the final three steps, namely:

  • Step 4: Assign roles and facilitate student-designed ‘Looks Like/Sounds Like’ tactics
  • Step 5: Provide relevant reinforcement activities
  • Step 6: Encourage student reflection and self/team evaluation related to a given skill

Step 4: Assign roles and facilitate student-designed ‘Looks Like/Sounds Like’ tactics
You now need to choose a ‘Role-of-the-Week’ that will support the development of the particular Skill-of-the-Week that you and your students decided to focus on in Step 2. For example, as outlined in issue 15, if the Skill-of-the-Week is ‘Staying on Task’, the Role-of-the-Week will be ‘Taskmaster’. If the skill is ‘Equal participation’, the Role-of-the-Week will be ‘Gatekeeper’. Post the chosen role in the Social Skills Centre.

Follow this link to review a range of social skills and corresponding social roles that students can learn to adopt.

With your students established in groups of four, give each one a turn at playing the role before it rotates. To do this, students will first need to discuss and develop positive models of what to do and say – they need to know what it ‘Looks Like’ and ‘Sounds Like’ to fulfil the role well. The aim here is to lead the students in generating and recording their own tactics and ideas, which they develop over time, rather than instructing them in these verbal and non-verbal behaviours. Once these tactics are developed they are posted up in the Social Skills Centre, adding to any ideas that were posted when the skill was first introduced.

Follow this link to review an exemplar ‘Social Skills Centre’ showing ideas from Year 7 students relating to the role of ‘Gatekeeper’.

There are lots of different ways to help students generate their own ‘Looks Like/Sounds Like’ tactics:

  • You could model the role for the class, both poorly and well (including a few outrageous examples if you are a talented performer!) and have students in their teams discuss which tactics are the best and why. For example, you might contrast weak versus strong Gatekeeper tactics, eg, ‘Kath, you’re talking too much! Pete, talk more’ (weak) with ‘That’s interesting, Kath; do you agree with that, Pete?’ End by modelling strong, positive tactics.
  • Work with one team to get them into role while the other teams are busy on another task. This ‘expert’ team can then model the role for the rest of the class. For example, you might have one team member pretend not to know how to solve a problem and have the ‘Coach’ model how to help a teammate solve a problem without doing it for them. It’s a good idea to work with one of the weaker teams in the class, to help them gain confidence and acquire the role at a level they might not otherwise have achieved.
  • Pose a specific scenario to help them explore a particular role. For example: ‘Kath is doing all the talking, as usual; the others are just doing what she says, so Pete feels there is no point in trying to get involved as his contribution will probably be ignored anyway.’ Challenge the class to come up with tactics to help the person playing the role of Gatekeeper. What could (s)he say and do to get Pete participating without making Kath feel as though she is being put down?
  • Use simulations. As above, students are provided with a scenario to role-play and are given time to experiment with different solutions. Groups could all work on the same scenario or a range of different ones, before sharing and discussing their tactics with other teams.
  • Develop a Tactics Exchange Bank. Students note down their tactics on slips of paper (one idea per slip), which they use for a while. When any tactic becomes second nature or grows old, the team trades it in for a new one from the Exchange Bank

When not to use roles: Most simple teamwork structures (such as those listed below, for example) do not need roles. In fact, assigning roles would detract from the effectiveness of these structures. Roles are best used when teams are working on more complex and extended projects or enquiries, when they are likely to find themselves tested both socially and intellectually.

Step 5 Provide relevant reinforcement activities
Structure tasks so that the acquisition of social skills is an integral part of the learning experience, or necessary for task completion. These structures govern how the task is to be carried out and will ensure that the skill is practised. Example structures might, to name just a few, include:

Target skill: Structure: See issue no:
Listening Three-step interview 13
  Paraphrase Permit 14
Turn-taking Round table 13
Helping Numbered Heads 13

Another way of reinforcing the Skill-of-the-Week is to look out for spontaneous models — ongoing examples of the effective use of the skill, perhaps from students who are playing the related role particularly well. Their verbal and non-verbal behaviours can then be held up as a model for the rest of the class.

Clearly, the ultimate aim is to get to a point where we do not have to use structuring or assign roles because our students have internalised and mastered the associated skills. The premise upon which this structured approach is based, however, is that we will get to that point faster through early experiences with formal role assignment and teamwork structures than through using unstructured collaborative work and just hoping that students discover these skills for themselves. As students learn to work together effectively, it is important to systematically reduce the level of structure – a high degree of structure reduces management and social relations problems between students, but there is less opportunity for development of higher-level thinking skills and internalisation of social skills and roles.

Step 6: Encourage student reflection and self/team evaluation related to a given skill
Students need time to reflect on how well they are working together. You could do this in many different ways, including:

  • using reflection questions during rather than at the end of a class, to ensure that students have the opportunity to change their behaviour and benefit from the reflection
  • integrating with the Social Skills Centre – students can use their growing list of ‘Looks Like/Sounds Like’ tactics to help them evaluate their teamwork. Questions to be asked include: which tactics have you heard or seen others use? Which tactics have you been able to use yourself? Have we come up with any new ones?
  • providing students with self and/or group evaluation forms which they can use to rate their own individual interactions and those of the team as a whole. The best reflection forms have students reflect on no more than one skill at a time.
  • using student observation – one student on each team, in rotation, is given the role of observer during a particular task or for a specific period of time in an extended task. Their job is to focus on a particular target skill, such as encouragement, among team members. It is helpful to provide observers with an observation form on which they can note down each instance of encouragement and its source, so that the good use of this skill can be fed back and recognised amongst teammates. It may sometimes be useful to choose individuals who are low on a particular skill, to give them the opportunity to see it in action.
  • using teacher observation – a class or team review session can be facilitated by the teacher sharing his/her own observations regarding how well the Skill-of-the-Week is being used. It is best for teachers to simply share an observation and leave the teams to take responsibility for how they might respond.

The structured approach to social skills development outlined above is a powerful combination of both behavioural and cognitive approaches to teaching and learning. Learners experience social skills, see them modelled by teachers and peers and learn to imitate, but also learn to construct for themselves a lasting understanding of team work by talking through its components, such as fairness, respect, responsibility and accountability.

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.