8 March 2013

Managing the Octopus

Team Contract

For the Project Based Learning Teacher Certification course I am undertaking with PBLU, I recently had to submit an assignment outlining and reflecting upon the management of the project. This report focuses on on the formation and organisation of teams; use of strategies for conflict resolution and decision-making and the different tools that can be used to support the teams.

TEAM GROUPINGS
Teams were formed through close consultation with both the Learning Support (LS) and English Language Support (ELS) departments. After much discussion and deliberation about possible groupings, it was decided that the best option was to divide those with specific learning needs equally out amongst teams and to provide stronger learners in each team. LS and ELS teachers have also been in supporting learners in this challenging process and we meet regularly to discuss the progress. ELS support the language learners with extra lessons after school synchronously with the skills being covered in class and it has been noted that learners have benefited from being in groups with native English speakers. Equally, the LS department are really pleased with the progress of the learners under their care; they feel that the responsibility given to the learners to take control of the learning has has a huge impact on their confidence and we see learners standing and giving presentations in front of the class who were once very reluctant and shy to do so. One of the biggest changes has been in the support mechanisms developed - learners were not a unit, they did not operate together and were uncommunicative, lacked self-regulation and were often just plain mean to each other. That has changed completely - they are kind, supportive, critical friends who are working harmoniously with a shared goal.

In Phase 3, the final design part of the project, learners were asked to reflect in detail about the research and presentations of Phase 2. They were then given the opportunity to rethink the teams and processes learned in Phase 2, and suggestions were taken onboard in the formation of these final teams. This meant that learners were assigned teams but also given the opportunity to decide on their own teams too - which gives weight to their responsibility and ‘buy in’. The journey they have come on now means they are in a position to make wise decisions about the various strengths of all the different learners in the classes to form great, cooperative teams.


TEAMWORK

As we are an all-inclusive school, we have a variety of learners with varying needs from behavioural and learning to language and social, as outlined above. Therefore, a great deal of the first Phase of the project was spent on deciding what a good team player was and the behaviours they should demonstrate.

Learners split into groups and, using the bie.org rubric as a starting point, researched and developed this so it was co-constructed to meet their needs. We spent a lot of time (Phase 1) discussing how to deal with issues such as non-compliance and non-contribution and learners used the IB Learner Profile to identify characteristics that we all understood and recognised as necessary for successful collaboration. We also designed and signed a contract for teamwork, which learners in ‘trouble’ were referred to; many issues were resolved using this and the co-constructed rubric. By making the behaviour of teamwork measurable, learners felt a responsibility and ownership of the project, that has meant there has been little conflict or need for many resolutions. I think spending a good amount of time building a strong foundation of understanding and expectations really helped and even though it took some time, it was truly beneficial in the long run.

In addition, I think that having clearly defined roles within the teams also helped, as everyone had a job description and this transparency allowed all team members to know what their responsibilities were as well be able to guide others who were falling behind on their contributions. Giving them power and responsibility allowed them to be mature and critical teamplayers.

MANAGEMENT LOG

We have used a variety of methods and tools to manage the variety of different tasks, as learners did not always like the idea of a ‘list’. 

Daily Notes

Management Log: For Phase 3 of the project, learners have decided to complete a management log to try to help them be more organised and because they like to explore every possible avenue.

Other tools we have used are:

Calendar: we have a Google Calendar embedded into our website which outlines the main parts of the project; this is negotiable and discussed and amended regularly.

Files: each team has a file; the file has rubrics, contracts and job descriptions as well as a section for each round - which is roughly 1-2 weeks. Each round has a log to show who is responsible for what, a section for leaving notes to communicate between each grade/class and assessment sheets for peer assessment for each round; learners really like their files and have filled them with notes and ideas and refer to them each lesson. 
Team Files

Edmodo: deadlines, quizzes and assignments are all put onto Edmodo; all communication happens here so all are responsible in helping reach deadlines or solve problems

Agenda: we have an agenda for each lesson; I create it based on issues raised from last lesson noted in the files, on Edmodo or from learner feedback, along with the schedule of tasks currently scheduled in the calendar or that have been identified in the Need to Know list; this is shared and discussed at the start of each lesson. Learners are able to add additional items to the agenda as needed. This is also embedded on the website and put onto Edmodo for those learners who may be absent, so that learners have access to it at all times.

Workshops: we have workshops based on the Need to Know list and as identified as we work; some skills have come up through lessons and workshops have been developed accordingly. These include note making, persuasive writing, film making, recount writing and report writing.

Blog & Twitter: The Octopus Garden Blog keeps our community informed about developments, as does our Twitter @NISSOctopus; equally, learners all have personal blogs where their reflections are posted Grade 7, Grade 8

The combination of all these tools means that learners are in constant communication and are always up to date as they have become part of our habits of mind. It has taken a bit of practice to train all learners up in keeping up to date as we only went officially 1:1 in the middle of the project. However, as a result of this and the sudden increase in e-tools and communication from all lessons, we discussed and came up with the concept of ‘Tech Time’; this is five minutes given at the start of the lesson, where learners are given time to catch up with emails and Edmodo and ensure they try to keep a zero inbox.

Empowering learners to have a say and to take responsibility has been really useful in ensuring they are up to date and learning to manage their communication and collaboration tools. Adopting a variety of different tools has allowed me to stay of top of this huge project and allow me to be in constant contact with learners and our communication has become shared, reflective and effective.