When we were developing the 12 Mini Courses last summer, we had long conversations about having the end in mind – a.k.a. What tools did we want to make sure our students had BEFORE we set them up for their first inquiry?
The first set of Mini Courses had them learn about themselves as learners and more importantly, what qualities they brought to their group during projects. The second set was about working together and taking other perspectives into account – how to resolve conflict, how to develop leadership and how to work more collaboratively together. We put a lot of time and effort into frontloading these skills since they do not always come naturally. It is handy to revisit the same concepts in terms that everyone in the class understands when issues arise later on.
It is important to remember that even as adults, we struggle with group efforts – “it’s just easier to do it myself” is not an effective collaborative strategy! So asking a group of middle schoolers to be adept at group projects is a bit naive. I think there is room to learn and various teachable moments will arise – especially if you have team captains or project managers who are up for the extra challenge. The Grade 7s often want to be in charge but I have many Gr 6 students who have shown highly developed collaboration skills.
Peer assessment and checkpoints along the way are good tools to catch groups before they go off the rails. Teachers can model strategies and I often ask, “What do you (or your group) need in order to get past this and onto the next step?” Sometimes it is simple like a delegation of tasks and other times it is more complex if there are hurt feelings and more restoration is needed within the group.