Brace yourselves, here comes a sports metaphor:
Many Americans enjoy football for its high-paced, high-impact athletics. It is not uncommon to hear a rabid fan yelling out, "Kill him! Kill him!" shortly after downing his sixth Bud Light. I have to admit, there is something barbarically entertaining about the bone-breaking sport, but I am far more impressed for an entirely different reason.
More than any other sport, a football team is composed of a wide variety of different components and parts. First, and most popularly, there is the offense; the quarterback; the wide receivers. Often times the members of the offense get paid the most because they perform the duties that every fan pays to see: scoring. Next you have the defense. Some teams rely heavily on these massive tackling machines to stop opposing offensive units from earning too many points. Finally, you have the special teams units. Often ignored, but integrally vital, the kickers and punters of the National Football League have been known to either win games or lose games single-handedly.
Aside from the players on the field, there are plenty of other important parts of the modern football team: the coaching staff, medical team, and some would argue, the fans themselves. All of these parts have clear leaders, who are often enshrined in NFL Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
Hunter, we get it. You like sports. I thought this was a blog about your growth as an educator?
Hear me out. I would argue that the modern classroom in many ways is similar to the modern football team. Especially when it comes to group work. The class that I teach in organized into table groups of 4-5 students each. Combined with the guidance of the teacher, these groups need to work together in order be successful, just like all the parts of a football team need to cooperate in order to win games. Each student, each group, has their own unique strengths and weaknesses. It is through teamwork and cooperation that the students in a classroom are ultimately able to succeed. When one student lacks participation, he brings other parts of the classroom down; hinders everyone's chances of learning and understanding.
Okay, cute. Football is kinda-sorta like a classroom. What's your point?
Calm down, we're getting there. The point is, if the success of the students hangs in the balance due to teamwork and cooperation, then the question becomes simple: how do we as educators foster positive teamwork and cooperation in the classroom?
As I mentioned, my classroom is composed of table groups. Almost all of our assignments rely on student interactions with each other and cooperation in order to gather information and analyze historical documents. But you can't just randomly group kids together and expect them to work with each other, let alone like each other. I have groups right now that do not even interact with each when tasked with a cooperative assignment. They just sit there, keep to themselves, and do the work (well or poor) as best as they can.
Weinstein and Novodvorsky to the rescue! "When students are going to work in the same groups over a period of time, it's often helpful to have them engage in a nonacademic activity designed to build a team identity and to foster a sense of group cohesion" (pg. 280, 2011). The timing of this reading could not be more perfect. Today for example, I will be leading the students through an activity that involves playing video games. (The purpose is to compare an Atari game with an Xbox 360 game in order to visualize progress as we start to dip into the Industrial Revolution. So, yes, it is academic.) I remain hopeful that an activity like this will encourage student interaction that will pay off later down the line, especially for students who may normally not interact with one another.
The NFL teams that make it to the Super Bowl each year represent excellence in teamwork and cooperation. A large group of individuals working together and accomplish success. Take now, the students in the classroom. The ability of all students to learn depends on the ability of each and every student to cooperate with each other, at least in my classroom. As the saying goes, "You are only as strong as your weakest link." Weinstein and Novodvorsky present a helpful tool to improving and fostering this cooperation, but I believe this must be done in tandem with differentiation; making su