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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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.