Thursday, October 23, 2003

Getting Along Is Hard to Do

One of my sixth grade classes has been having a really hard time with the group projects. Two groups, in particular, have major personality conflicts, which have resulted in someone crying each of the past three days. In each group, the problem stems from putting together 2 (or more) very bossy children. They just don't seem to know how to make suggestions without yelling or using a nasty tone. Of course, they also don't listen to each other very carefully, so sometimes one child has pointed out a problem four or five times and still not been heard, and justifiably feels annoyed when the problem results in more work for the group. Then they say things like, "See??? Isn't that what I said????"

I end up spending a lot of time with these groups, giving each child a chance to air his or her grievances, making suggestions for listening better and speaking more pleasantly, and just generally smoothing things out and refocusing their attention on their work. One group did much better today, after major meltdowns the past two days, but the other group did much worse, with one girl refusing to talk to the other members of her group and crying hysterically. I patted her on the shoulder, reassured her, listened to her complaints, and spoke with the whole group about getting along and not insulting each other (she had done just as much insulting as being insulted, it turned out), but she continued crying and still would not work with the other kids. At that point I turned firm, gave her a tissue, and sent her to the bathroom to wash her face and calm down. She protested, wanting to continue the scene, but I said the conversation was over. When she came back she sat with her group but did not participate, but I let it go since the period was nearly over. Hopefully she will come back tomorrow and give it another try.

I know that I am "supposed" to have roles when we do group work, such as timekeeper, encourager, etc., but when I've tried it in the past I haven't found it particularly helpful, and the students generally work together well at my school. Perhaps I will try again during my next project - one of our new teachers uses roles, so she may have suggestions.

Anyway, I can't wait to finish this project and break up those groups. This side of the students' personalities had not shown up during September, which is how I ended up with such awful combinations of kids. I hope that November's seating chart works out better, although breaking up one problematic group often just leads to creating new, unexpected conflicts... I like to change the seats every month, though, to give kids a chance to work with everyone at some point during the year, and to break up the monotony and provide relief for those who are unhappy in their current groups. I will keep a close eye on the kids having the most problems and see how they do with other students; that will help me identify who needs the most work on cooperation skills. Some kids just have conflicts with one or two specific people, while others have problems no matter who they are working with.


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