Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I am joining again with a group of bloggers writing on the topic of giftedness. The topic of this month’s blog hop is gifted relationships, and I chose to share some thoughts on teaching independent learners to work in groups, since in my experience, gifted kids strongly prefer independent work.
Getting independent learners to work in groups

Relationship Dance Is Not Always Easy

Smarty is not an introverted child. In fact, she is very outgoing… with adults. It’s a different matter with kids. I think she is seeking a deeper personal connection with her friends, and therefore she strongly prefers 1:1 interaction. She can connect to almost any kid during a playdate as long as they have enough time to discuss and reach a compromise on what they are going to do, and she enjoys group games organized by adults, but she hates (her word) group projects in school and she rarely joins group games during recess where kids self-organize into a game. Instead she and her best friend prefer to spend time playing together and rebuking attempts from others to enter their “circle of friendship”. Needless to say, other kids don’t appreciate this attitude, and I worry that Smarty will end up more and more isolated from the mainstream on her rather small island of friendships. So we keep talking and role playing at home through several rules of working in groups.

Group Work: Tips for Independent Learners


1. Be Kind

I can sympathize with Smarty when she is in the middle of the activity with her friends and someone else tries to join the game. However, I keep asking her to imagine how she would feel trying to join a group and getting rejected. Depending on the situation, an acceptable compromise could be to ask a new participant to wait until the end of the current turn if the activity allows it. I thought that she is learning this lesson, but just yesterday she rejected someone entering “her” game, so we need to keep working on that.

2. Be Patient

There is a reason why kindergartners are spending so much time in learning to take turns. Group work or group games often requires waiting for others to complete something. Again, we appeal to Smarty’s well developed sense of fairness here and remind her that it’s not OK to take over and complete other person’s work. We also invoke The Golden Rule and remind her of how other kids sometimes have to wait for her in group games, since she is younger and smaller than her classmates and cannot complete physical activities as fast as they can.

3. Listen to Others

Yet again, this is not an area of strength for our strong-willed child. We keep modeling this at home and call her on interruptions. We also praise her when we catch her show respect for other opinions, especially opinions from her friends.

4. Be Prepared to Compromise

It’s rare to get what you want when you deal with a group of kids. This is why Smarty doesn’t like group projects – kids don’t always go with her vision of the project. We are constantly showing her at home that agreeing to a compromise usually leads to a better outcome that stubbornly persisting on something that you’ve been outvoted on.

5. Stand Up for Yourself

This point might appear the opposite to the previous one, but we don’t want our daughter to always “fold” in group discussions. That’s why we talk often about the ways to persuade someone, praise her when she calmly presents good points in arguments at home, and allow her sometimes to “win” in the debates.

6. See the Strengths of Others

I often point out to Smarty that it’s important to see the strength of others in a group project and try to distribute tasks accordingly. For example, a child who is not so good with taking data measurements can be an excellent artist and present the data in an attractive way. We also encourage her to sincerely compliment others when she sees something deserving praise.

7. Don’t Focus on Winning

Some of the group projects in Smarty’s classroom were set up as competitions, and, of course, there is often a competition component in group games. Smarty (and some of her gifted friends) are very competitive, but they tend to “over engineer” their solutions in hopes for the win. I wrote about this phenomenon in the post Why Brains Aren’t Everything. Instead, we are trying to teach her to put forth her best effort while trying to keep the solution reasonably simple and therefore doable in the amount of time available for the project.

8. Understand How Groups Work

I work as a project manager for a big tech company, and therefore I have a lot of experience (and some training) in group performance. Smarty and I talked about the lifecycle of successful teams (forming, storming, norming, performing), which I think made Smarty more comfortable with the inevitable chaos that is happening in the beginning of every group project or every group game. I also share a lot of “war stories” from my office talking about persuading others, communicating to my managers, or dealing with difficult people. While Smarty is not yet completely comfortable with group situations, I think she is more willing to give self-organized group activities a try even when she does not have to participate in them. Hopefully, with time, our independent learner can grow into a valuable team member and a group leader.

Does Relationship Dance Get Easier?

Practically, every job of 21st century requires ability to work in teams, and therefore I consider ability to work in groups an essential life skill. I believe this ability does get easier through good and bad experiences,  and this is why I am glad that Smarty has a lot of exposure to self-organized group work in school and in her after school program. And, by the way, one does not have to be an extrovert to be successful in group situations. Introverted people are more energized by ideas than by people, and they can be great team contributors if they focus on that brainstorming benefit of team situations.

Your Turn

Helping Independent Learner to Work in Groups
What are your tips for helping independent learners deal with group work?

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Gifted Relationships Blog Hop

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JL said...

Having clearly defined structure helps with group work. When I used to teach cooperative learning, we gave each student a role so each child knew what he or she had to do to make the group successful. Thus, they are not competing with each other but rather working cooperatively.

Ticia said...

I think if we ever got our daughters together they would have a real love/hate relationship. Smarty sounds so much like my Princess, and I've found the friends she is most like in personality are the ones she conflicts with the most.

maryanne @ mama smiles said...

Great tips here. As JL said, teachers giving specific roles help kids work particularly well together. Unfortunately, not all teachers do that.

Anonymous said...

These are great tips. Rehearsing possible scenarios with role playing can be helpful for smooth working in a group.