Understanding Groups: Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing

When I first read about Tuckman’s stages of group development at SIT, there was a lot of nodding going on in my dorm room. I recalled when I first met people who would inevitably play an important role in my life (clubs, teams, classes…). Images of those awkward moments all came back to me: trying to make sense of our roles; fighting for our ideas; comparing our strengths and weaknesses. A real ego showdown. Then, how at some point, we all managed to make it work to the point where we dreaded the day we would part.

Learning about this group psychology made it easier for me to be a part of future groups. As if those definitions made everything okay, or at least, much less unnerving. I wanted our course participants to read about these stages for the same reason. I wanted them to understand that all those difficult moments they were going to face in their six months together were just signs they were growing together, and that if they noticed they were growing apart, they had the power to take some control over it.

Over the years, I tried different ways of introducing the reading to them, but each time this dialogue fell short. Part of the problem was I didn’t help them break down the text into digestible chunks. Well this year, I think I found the right recipe.
I separated the participants into four groups and assigned each group to read a description of one of the  stages, 1. Forming 2. Storming 3. Norming 4. Performing, from the linked website. I chose this reading because I thought they would be able to focus on the meaning and not get bogged down in the language.

Note: I won’t go into the details of each stage since you can find a wonderful explanation at Adam Simpson’s blog, Teach them English at his post Have you ever wondered why your group activities fail to inspire students?. Just scroll down a bit to find his descriptions of each stage.  He also describes the fifth stage Tuckman added to the model ten years later. I didn’t ask the participants to read this stage, but will definitely consider adding it in the future. I think there is great value in thinking about how a group comes to terms with its end.

Then I suggested they read their assigned stage individually and after discuss the meaning as a group. They collaborated to make sense of new expressions and concepts. I only intervened if I noticed they needed support. Once they felt like they grasped the concept, they had to draw a visual representation of the stage. I could already see a little “storming” going on as they decided what to put on their posters. Once the were done, each group was responsible for explaining their stage by using the visual representation they designed.

The poster below says, “I’m showing you my best side. I’m wondering about you, but I’m not ready to share too much about me. I don’t want to get too close yet. I just want to keep the peace.”

FormingThe “forming” poster flowed nicely into the “storming”. I don’t think any explanation is required here.

StormingAnd below we see all the confused emoticons at the bottom of the poster, each with their own colour which describes the “storming”. But as the conflicts occur, compromise and understanding also becomes part of the dialogue. This is represented by the multi-colored faces in the middle. Finally the result is a happy face that encompasses all the colours of the group.

NormingWith this understanding, the group is able to perform their tasks with joy and efficiency.

PerformingJust to reiterate, none of the groups were aware of what the other groups were creating.  It was wonderful to watch all the pieces come together. As each group explained their posters, they referred to what the previous group spoke about. Once the “performing” group presented their poster, all the puzzle pieces came together.

What does all this mean? I hope it means that the teachers (participants) are now aware of the shifts that might happen during their time in the program. I also hope they extend this understanding to their students. Personally, I am very excited to see how this may change the conversation that usually occurs in our program.

* I also recommend reading Adam Simpson’s The power of the poster. As you can see from this post. I am also a huge advocate of posters. Posters are a powerful tool.

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Introducing Tana Ebaugh and the Pioneer Training and Education Consortium

Tana Ebaugh and I met when we both began our journey at The SIT Graduate Institute in 2007. Since then, our lives have had the good fortune of intersecting in terms of ambition and location: teacher education in Daegu, South Korea.  Over many coffees, Tana and I would dream of a space where teachers from around the globe could come together to share a common understanding of teaching and learning. Now, Tana, and her colleague  Zhenya Polosatova (please see Mike Griffin’s excellent interview with Zhenya on his blog, ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections), have created this space in the Pioneer Training and Education Consortium (ptec).

And so it is with great honor and joy that I share with you this interview where Tana tells us a bit about herself, gives us a glimpse into ptec, and shares with us her hopes for teacher education. 

Tana, can you tell us a little about yourself?

Tana in actionI came to teacher education via a diverse collection of fields: electronics, microbiology, photography and graphic design. Each of these areas contribute to who I am as a teacher and a teacher educator. I have taught mostly adults in Thailand, the US, and in Korea. I believe that the learner is as important as the learning, and that as an educator in the classroom I need to involve them in the both the content and the process of their learning. Sometimes I am the holder of knowledge, but most often I see myself as a guide, a facilitator of learning.

How was ptec born? 

It starts with the professional relationship that I developed with my colleague, Zhenya Polosatova, in the winter of 2011—a meeting of education beliefs, of joy in learning, and in working with others. In the summer of 2012 we were contracted to write a TESOL certificate program for UCC Center, a teacher training organization in South Korea. Once our project was complete we realized that we had a valuable training tool that could reach beyond its original mandate. Putting that together with other trainers we know and respect, and developing a network to reach out to teaching organizations/institutions and education ministries seemed a next logical progression. This means that ptec is a space for trainers/educators and organizations/institutions to meet. It is a starting point for delivering and developing learning-centered, contextualized training and education for teachers.

If you could choose three words to describe ptec, what would they be and why?

Evolving. We are still building the concept, modifying it to more effectively connect trainers/educators with organizations. We are still clarifying what ptec is and what it is not. To borrow from the design field, you could say we are a boutique style consortium. We are a niche of trainers and organizations that cares deeply about learning, that is interested in context sensitive trainings and workshops, that realizes the preeminence of culture in all that we do vs. being a job site with everyone in mind. Consortium. We choose to be a consortium because we want to build community between organizations and trainers and learners, not just be providers. Focus. As with our Consortium at large, our blog is focused on training and education issues vs ESL/EFL teaching per se. We focus on student learning through teacher education and development.

One of ptec’s offerings is a TESOL Certificate course. What would you say makes your TESOL curriculum stand out from all the other teacher training programs?

Tana

Our TESOL curriculum is based on core principles that are carried through to the level of trainer plans. Our major accomplishments are that the course is competency based and has built-in needs self-assessment sessions so that it can be modified during the training itself to meet each particular group’s needs, e.g. Korean teachers of English, new teachers, administrators. Through the use of these needs assessments and the ongoing use of the learning log (a documentwhich details the competencies that may be covered during the course), the course participants develop an awareness of their knowledge and skills and actively engage in reflective practice. The course is geared for both native and non-native speakers, with materials with which A2 level (*see below for links)  language learners can actively engage.

If someone is interested in getting involved in ptec, what can they do?

As a potential Member, you need to be: 1) a certified trainer, e.g. CELTA and SIT’s licensure programs, or 2) in the process of being trained up, or 3) be recommended by at least two ptec members who you have trained with on a course. You must be an active reflective practitioner that is comfortable working in community and enjoy modifying courses/sessions/workshops to meet the needs of individual groups of participants. As a potential Alliance, you are an organization that partners with ptec Members to deliver and/or develop courses/workshops, or purchases ptec courses from individual ptec Members. It is easy to get in touch with ptechttp://pioneerconsortium.com/contact-us/

What are your hopes and dreams for ptec and teacher education in general?

For ptec I wish for Alliances with institutions and organizations that value the learner and the learning process. I wish for members that want to develop in community with other trainers/educators to find a space to meet. I hope that the blog entries to add to the KASA (Knowledge, Attitude, Skills, Awareness) of those involved with learning and teaching through provocative yet sensitive discussion.

For teacher education I think two of the most progressive things we can do are: 1) facilitate a personal relationship to reflective practice. A process that cannot be dictated and all must follow and 2) facilitate a teacher’s KASA: Knowledge, of their content areas and of the teaching process; Attitude, honoring themselves, their students, their colleagues, and other stakeholders; Skills, their practice—actions taken, how they deliver their content, how they interact with students, etc.; and Awareness, of their impact on others, the interconnectedness between teacher-student-content-environment, and their own needs.

With such a vision for teacher education, I am very excited to see ptec out there in the world. If you feel the same way, why not let Tana and Zhenya know? Leave a comment below, or on their website.

* A2 language level links:

A Cool Community Building Day: group created norms

I must say, I feel a bit strange not blogging about “cool things that happened today”. Facebook and Twitter are ablaze with the challenge Mike Griffin started early last week. Although my post isn’t about a cool thing that happened today, it definitely is a cool thing that happened in the last two weeks. For cool things that happened in the last 24 hours (and a bit), please check out these posts by teachers from around the globe: Ratna Ragunathan-Chandrasegaran (Malaysia), Icha Sarwono (Indonesia), Laura Phelps (Georgia), Ann Loseva (Russia), Kevin Stein (Japan),  Carol Goodey (Scotland), Gemma Lunn (Korea), Ava Fruin (USA), Tyson Seburn (Canada), and Tom Randolph (Korea)… did I miss anyone?

And now my cool little story…

The first week of March began the first week of training for our newest group of in-service teachers. Like any group of people meeting for the first time, the teachers are trying to figure out how the fit in, who they click with, and how everything comes together. Since last year, we’ve been been dedicating a day to helping them understand each other. We want them to start seeing that they are in this together. The program can be intense and it’s important they know that they are not alone.

One activity that we’ve done in the past is ask the teachers to think about what kind of support they need from each other, and also what strategies they might have to deal with possible conflicts and challenges that will come up. In the past we just asked them to discuss these points and then create a poster with their ideas. We then put this poster on the wall so they are able to refer to it throughout the semester. It’s based on the similar concept of getting students to create rules/norms for themselves. *For more ideas on this topic please check out #KELTChat summary: Classroom Rules and Implementing Them.

As you can see from the pictures above, we changed it up a little. In collaboration with my colleague Darryl Bautista, we asked the teachers to think of their time in our course as a foundation (school building metaphor), on which they can rest their hopes, fears, expectations, and ideas for resources available to them. This was the final result.

However, before they knew about this metaphor, the parts of the school (hopes, fears…) were only pieces of a puzzle. To start, all they had to do was individually write their ideas on the parts. Once the white-spaces were filled, they worked together as teams to find out what the pieces created when put together. Once the figured out it was a school, the final task was for them to sign the school’s steps and stick them to the foundation.

And voila! They created their norms for the semester.

These are the reasons I like this puzzle/metaphor activity better than the posters we used to do:

  • Collaboration is implicit in the activity. They have to work together to figure out what the pieces create.
  •  It’s focused on feelings and possibilities, and not conflicts. I think this gives space for everyone to feel heard. One strategy that used to come out of the “how-to-deal-with-conflicts” segment of the poster was “go out for drinks together.” Although I get it, I know not everyone in the group is a drinker and I always felt it excluded some. *As I write this, I think I still saw “alcohol” somewhere on the house. At least it isn’t front and center like it was before. I’m learning to let it go. :)
  • There was a lot more participation and action going on: they had to think creatively to put the pieces together; they had to negotiate with each other; everyone had to write a few times; they had to move to play with the puzzle pieces.
  • It was just a lot of fun to collaborate with Darryl on this one. :) We had a few reflection-in-action moments during the process I thought made the activity that much richer.

I look forward to tweaking this activity a bit next year. One idea that one of the teachers in relation to working with the final product was to brainstorm ways to deal with the fears they wrote. What modifications would you make? I’m also curious to know what community/team building activities do you do in your school or training programs?

Final thoughts and thanks:

  • A big thanks to Darryl who craftily designed and cut out pieces of the houses. :)
  • I’d like to thank Mary Scholl and Centro Espiral Mana SIT TESOL course for inspiring this idea. :)

Websites for community building activities:

Although the following site is geared towards businesses, I thought there was a lot of value here for educators as the site refers to learner-centeredness in many of their links. I’ll definitely be browsing this site in the future.

A Final Learning Statement at Centro Espiral Mana, SIT TESOL

On Friday, the February 2013 SIT TESOL course at Centro Espiral Mana ended. When a course closes here, participants are asked to create a final learning statement, summarizing what they have learned over the four weeks. Some participants wrote songs, poems, or essays, some created visual representations, and others recorded narratives. Each of these creations highlighted the inspiring process that goes on at Centro. Tony Paredes — a teacher from Tarapato, Peru — created the comic strip below. I asked Tony if I could share his learning statement  because I thought it was a great example of how some experienced teachers feel after taking this course. As Tony shows us, it’s truly transformative.

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The Creative Joy of Final Learning Statements

In three days, our training course will be over. In these final days, it’s time for participants to look back over their four months together and reflect on what’s been meaningful and what they’ve learned. To help them do this, I asked them to respond to a list of questions Mary Scholl (SIT teacher-trainer) created and kindly shared with me. Below are a few examples:

  • If you were to choose 10 words to describe your experience in the course, what would they be?
  • If your experience in the course were like weaving a beautiful cloth, what would be the threads that hold the cloth together?
  • How would you explain your experience in this course to a five year old?
  • What would your ideal motto be in the future?
  • If you had to sell this course, what would your slogan and ad campaign look like?
  • Go through all of your journal entries from the course. Choose the ones that are most meaningful to you. Why are they meaningful?
  • Make a metaphor for how the course has affected you. Be juicy and deep in your description.

With these questions, they created final learning statements that would then become the front cover of  their learning portfolios. They kept this portfolio throughout my writing course.  I encouraged the participants to be as creative as they wanted, and as you’ll see, they didn’t hold back. During our final learning statement gallery walk (gallery walk explanation coming soon), I was inspired at each turn. I hope you feel inspired too.

Please enjoy the artistic exhbilition of learning!

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Privacy tip: Notice the funky, random strips on some of the statements? To keep the anonymity of my participants, I used the smartphone app Labelbox to cover their names.

How Do You Create Smoother Transitions?

Transitions can create cohesive compositions, but transitions can also create cohesive groups. If teachers provide the right context, transitions into new situations or environments can be smooth, and can even help create strong connections between new group members (classmates).

One of my goals for the first session (total of 5 weeks) of our three session program is to help participants understand the basic construction of a paragraph. One of the elements we look at is how to create cohesion. However, what the participants may not notice is that through the process of learning how to write a cohesive paragraph, they are also becoming a cohesive group of learners. Through collaboration and shared understanding, a natural camaraderie develops during that first session.

So how does such a close-knit group feel when they find out that for the second session they will need to separate into new groups? As I discovered during this first session’s closure class, the participants felt scared, worried, apprehensive, and sad. I witnessed more tears than I expected on that last day. They didn’t want to leave the comfort and familiarity.

To support a transition from tears to smiles, the context I provide includes creating metaphors and diamante poetry. In the photo gallery below, you’ll see this context in process. Just click on each picture to get a closer view.

The transition process begins with groups searching for new walking, running and jumping synonyms. Then, using these words, they write individual metaphors, and share them with their partners, explaining why they chose the words they did. It’s at this point that they begin to notice others share similar feelings about both sessions. The whole process finally ends with them writing a group diamante. By this point, they realize that they may just get along with these folks too. With all this, the transition process has taken a softer step forward.

I’d love to know what you do to help your students or course participants transition. How do you support them in their transition from not being a student to now being one? What do you do to help them transition between semesters? Do you have a special routine to help students reconnect after Christmas, Thanksgiving, or spring breaks?

Now please enjoy the gallery walk!

* Previous posts about transitioning: In the post Lesson Planning Flow – Thesaurus Poetry, I write about the language (walking, running, jumping periphery verbs) participants generate in order to create both their metaphors, and their diamantes. In A Joyful Transition, I share the positive experience that past participants felt after they collaborated in writing group diamantes.

Celebrating Learning and Teaching

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started, and know the place for the first time. – T.S. Eliot

Through my reflective practice, I become an explorer of learning. By reflecting on my teaching, I discover that I have much more to learn. Teaching and learning are my ouroboros.

This blog itself is a celebration of my ouroboros, and the theme of the final celebration of this three part series. You’ve celebrated teachers and learners, and now it’s time to celebrate the experiences these two create.

For the final round of celebrating, describe what you’ve learned about teaching or learning via your blog, email (josette.leblanc@gmail.com), or Facebook, and I’ll post your stories here to this entry. (scroll down to see entries) Thank you so much to those who have participated, and to those who have expressed interest in this series. It’s been a fun process, and something I hope to try again in the future.

Once again, below you’ll find some learning moments my participants shared in their writing assignments. I feel so happy and proud that they are discovering their own ouroburos.

Continue reading “Celebrating Learning and Teaching”