Team-work is hard, but so is life

If you’re a Shakespeare buff, you’ll know that I stole that title from Fintan O’Toole (his title was ‘Shakespeare is hard, but so is life’ – great book!) … so take points off me for theft, but at least I acknowledged my source.

OK, so let’s be honest here: the most difficult part of PBL is managing teams. It’s SO hard! After almost three years of tireless devotion to this very trying (and inspiring) pedagogy, I’m still crap at managing teams! It’s true! Sometimes I just get really sad for those hard-working students who have to deal with dodgy team-mates. You know what I mean … we’ve all seen it and we’ve all been it – the kid that carries the load cos the others are too lazy or silly to do anything for themselves. It’s just not cool and it’s just not right. It is, however (I believe), a key part of the PBL experience. ‘What? Is she crazy?’ you ask. Nope. I just think that it’s a normal part of working on projects with others and it’s something that MUST be openly discussed in class. After all, if we don’t talk about what’s hard and work through our problems, how can we learn?

So that’s what I did today with Year 9. As you probably know, I spent the last 5 weeks galavanting around the glorious United States and as such, I was absent from class. Sadly, I missed my Year 9 students’ end of project exhibition. The teacher relieving me explained that some teams worked exceptionally well, whilst others were bitterly disappointed with their exhibition stalls – and the latter all cited poor team-work as a contributing factor. Now I’ll admit that this was not a surprise to me. Some students find it very hard to stay focused and give 100% when working in a team but I don’t think there is any excuse for not getting better at team-work. So, today we had a chat about what it means to be a great team-member.

In small teams, students created a draft rubric for being a great team-member. I gave them the headings ‘awesome’, ‘OK’ and ‘crap’ … they were responsible for listing 4-5 qualities of an ‘awesome’, ‘OK’ and ‘crap’ team-member. After ten minutes of brainstorming & recording, each team shared their ideas with the class & we negotiated a complete rubric. I was really pleased with their honesty and good humour during this task – some students were happy to adopt the title of ‘crap’ team-member.
You can see the end product of their work below, it’s still rough (I’ll make it a polished copy for the classroom project wall) but they happily agreed to use this rubric to self and peer assess team-work during our current project. I told them I’ll be using it to assess them each week as well … and there will be consequences for being identified as ‘crap’.



10 thoughts on “Team-work is hard, but so is life

  1. I did something similar with my Year 7 GATS class and it was great! Once they were more aware of what was involved in group work, we were able to refer to those things in constant reflection. We used “the lazy arse person” for your “crap” criteria, and we pointed out that person and decided strategies for success as we worked.
    Collaboration is hard, but so fruitful!

  2. Love the rubric! My first go with Yr 7 3 years ago, we started the unit by having the kids interview staff members – aides, librarian, teachers, secretaries, principal, ap, handyman, etc – kids interviewed staff in pairs re: what they saw as most important qualities for good teamwork as relevant for their jobs, then collated all their results on board – top five most-named qualities became our class guidelines for effective teamwork – was great experience, made team component authentic – but I really love the idea of students creating a class rubric! 🙂

  3. I have this same problem at uni 😦
    Someone suggested that I introduce ‘team charters’. I haven’t done it yet, but planning to do so this semester. The basic idea is that the students come up with a list of expected behaviours, and corresponding consequences if those aren’t upheld. It may be that someone who doesn’t come to team meetings gets a 1 grade penalty…I have no idea what else they would come up with!

    I’ll let you know if it works out.

  4. I like how you brought the problem back to the students as a character-building life lesson. As adults, we get frustrated when colleagues don’t pull their weight.

    Part of the challenge is to make sure that teams have adequately broken larger projects into small (30-minute or so) tasks. The biggest “a-ha” moment for my 5th graders was when they realised that not all students had to do every part together. Once they had a list of tasks, they could pick small tasks taht fit their learning strengths.

    I collected the lists of tasks and had teams write down names of team members who worked on each task. I could then assess how much of a project could be attributed to each student (and they could self-attribute on a poster during an exhibition).

    I wrote about some other ideas here:

    It’s reat to work through these problems.

    Hope you had fun in the US. I was recently there :).

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  9. Look, I hate to break it too you, as you clearly believe that such a thing as a ‘team’ really exists. You also seem to believe that such a ‘thing’ as ‘teamwork’ also exists.

    Let’s start facing up to reality. The word ‘team’ is used to help foster the idea that nobody is better than anybody else; everyone is a player on the same team so to speak. But, in reality, is this truly the case?. SWITCH THE CRITICAL FACULTIES ON FOR A MOMENT!!

    All individuals have strengths and weaknesses and this makes us better than each other in certain areas of life and less so in others. Therefore, this notion that nobody is better than anyone else is demonstrably false in every respect. We all excel is different subjects and activities and this infuses life with wonderful diversity.

    Teamwork’ is just a form of manipulation. It is how intelligent people get the average fool to sacrifice his own self-interest and happiness for something that does not even exist.

    When you look at the world around you, you can only see INDIVIDUALS. ‘Groups’, ‘Teams’, Partnerships’, ‘Communities’, etc,etc.etc., – none of these are metaphysically real. Only individuals are metaphysically real.

    You cannot ‘see’ a ‘team’. You cannot ‘touch’ a ‘team. You can only ‘see’ and ‘touch’ INDIVIDUALS.

    Similarly,you cannot ‘see’ a ‘forest’. You can only see and touch the TREES. The TREES are REAL. The forest is NOT REAL.

    Are you beginning to understand?

    When you strip away the words and peel off the labels and drill down to the basic underlying concepts – only the INDIVIDUAL exists. Everything else is an abstraction; a diversion of the mind in a sense.

    Words and phrases, like ‘teams’, teamwork’ ,’groups’, ‘governments’, ‘communities’ etc., are all self-cancelling by definition because they each render themselves down to the individual.

    Hope this helps.

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