Tag Archives: scrum boards

5 Social Distancing Group Work Strategies

Many teachers and students have or are returning to face-to-face classrooms with Covid social distancing rules in effect. Wearing a face mask, staying six feet apart, and not sharing materials makes group work and collaboration seem impossible. But there are ways to use technology and our space to still have social interactions and use groups to achieve tasks including Project Based Learning.

Here are 5 suggestions to make that happen. (Sidenote: many of these strategies will also work for online distance learning.) See which ones might work for you:

1. Go outside

One of the simplest ways to social distance is to go into a larger space than the typical classroom. This way students can maintain proper social distancing but still talk to each other. Some schools are using the lines of a parking lot to measure that partners are far enough apart. As a bonus, we know that the virus spreads more inside, so taking kids outside is healthy too.

Teachers can still use talking circles by making them larger. Have student “pass” around an invisible talking stick by pretending to throw and catch it. While outside, students can talk louder so all can hear without disturbing other classes in the building.

If you plan to use outdoor spaces frequently inform students and parents with suggestions that they bring a yoga mat or towel to sit on, plenty of water, and sunscreen or hats. You will also need a backup plan for days when the weather doesn’t cooperate.

I realize that not everyone has this option due to climate, size of school grounds, safety concerns, or even school policies. A compromise would be to move your class to a larger space inside (if available) like a gym, cafeteria, or common space. Other options to consider are getting rid of your teacher desk and having student groups work in the hall. We need to be as creative as possible about where class takes place.

2. Collaborative Technology

For schools that are entirely virtual, technology is how students are working together. If you are teaching in person then use the same tools for collaboration. The Google suite of tools including Classroom, Docs, Slides, Sheets, Forms, Drawings, and Jamboard offer a myriad of options for kids to work on the same things while physically distant. Apple and Microsoft offer similar tools. Students can work in “groups” collaboratively online while sitting six feet or six hundred miles apart.

Another online tool to consider is Padlet, which allows for easily collecting of sticky notes from students. Think exit tickets or answers to a warmup question. But students can also use it in groups for brainstorming or tracking project process. Google Jamboard has much of the same capabilities.

Upper elementary and secondary students can silently communicate in a document. GDocs has commenting and a built-in chat feature. Students are used to texting so communicating this way is natural for them. Organize group discussions by posting a question in a Doc and having the conversation through writing. You could project it on the board for all to see. It may be awkward at first so try it out with a fun topic before diving into content. One trick that I use in group writing is to have each student write in a different font color to assess individually.

3. Protocols

Many of the protocols that we have used in the past can be adapted to social distancing. You can still use PBL protocols of Need to Knows, 4 corners, gallery walk, and the tuning protocol. Start off Need to Knows individually by listing in a journal or on scrap paper. Next the entire class shares in a GDoc. Finally have a whole room conversation while the teacher writes the top 10-15 on the board or butcher paper.

If you go outside or to a larger space, you can still have students go to 4 corners while maintaining distance. Gallery Walks can be spaced out in hallways or on outside walls of your building. Have students stand by their poster and rotate every 3 minutes in an organized fashion. The tuning protocol can be done via video with a tool such as Flipgrid or socially distanced outside. Another alternative would be to silently look at each other’s work online and leave written comments.

Harvard Project Zero has many Visible Thinking Routines. There are Visible Thinking Routines based on analyzing ideas, working with others, and for engaging in actions. I have created free online templates for many of them that can be used in person or remotely. Almost any protocol can be adjusted for social distancing with the help of moving to a larger space or using online templates.

4. Scrum boards

One of my favorite methods to coach students to manage their groups is scrum boards. Adapted from the business world, they are a project management tool to keep a team and the project on track. The basic form sorts tasks into three columns: to do, doing, and done. In the past teachers have used sticky notes and posters or bulletin boards to create them.

During social distancing use my GDoc student scrum board template or a business tool such as Trello to have students organize their project process online. Make sure that each group shares their scrum board with you to allow monitoring and to use it for conferencing conversations.

5. Video conferencing

Students and teachers working remotely are making extensive use of Google Meet, Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams to collaborate. You can use video conferencing even when students are in the same room. Have every student bring in their own headphones or earbuds to keep the nose down.

Use random breakout rooms to have small group discussions about literature, articles, and classroom content. Combine it with a protocol to have proof of learning for assessment. Use fixed breakout rooms for project work time so that teammates can discuss their process as they work, even if they are not sitting right next to each other.

Most schools will not allow visitors, including parents. Use video conferencing to bring in guest speakers or content experts. Visitors can speak to the whole class via a projector or coach small groups on their projects in a breakout room. Due to Covid, many adults actually have more flexibility in their schedule to make a video visit than when they were working at the office.

Social distancing brings many challenges. Don’t try to implement all of these ideas at once, but pick one or two protocols and online tools to use extensively and slowly add others as needed when students are comfortable.

Let’s Connect

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL workshops or consulting on remote learning?  Connect with me at  michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele.

10 Ways to Teach Collaboration

So you’ve gotten to know your students and created “perfect” groups based on my grouping post. Since we know that there will be team struggles along the way, how do we equip students to handle them? What strategies should we use to teach, practice, and assess collaboration? Here are ten ways to teach collaboration to your students.

1. Be intentional about your grouping strategies.

First rule for teachers is to know their students. Use this knowledge to create teams that will be effective working together. For specific strategies see my post on grouping.

2. Create group contracts.

Students will not “naturally” work together without structure. Group contracts provide a way for students to safely negotiate how they will function before beginning the actual work. Consider using talking circles to have students make their contracts more personal. Check out my detailed post for more ideas on how to make effective group contracts.

3. Assign group roles by SEL competencies

Instead of assigning students to be a leader, timekeeper, researcher, or supplier, make the roles a more significant part of the project process. Assign students to take on the role of Self-Management, Social Awareness, Relationship Skills, or Responsible Decision Making for their group. Give them descriptions of their competency and build in goals, tasks, and reflection questions based on their role. Not only will this help student groups be more productive, it directly teaches Social and Emotional Skills.

4. Check In / Check out

At the beginning of class, ask students to focus on one item from a class social contract or other agreement such as the 7 Norms of Collaboration from Adaptive Schools. For example, “I would like everyone to focus on #2 Paraphrasing by rephrasing what someone else says before responding with your own thoughts.”

At the end of class, students reflect on how they did paraphrasing and respond with a thumbs up or down, fist to five, exit ticket, or turn and talk. Mix it up on different days. Making this short reflection a daily practice will build the collaborative culture in your class.

5. Critique a Video

Watch a clip of the Penguins of Madagascar or Big Bang Theory with a collaboration rubric and evaluate the characters’ level of collaboration. This is an excellent way to introduce a collaboration rubric and actually get kids to read and reflect on it! Assign different students specific characters to analyze or have them consider the group collaboration as a whole.

6. Use Protocols

Collaboration works when there are structures in place. Try using the Design Thinking Process from the Stanford d.school to help students develop problem solving techniques together. Kagan Strategies provide daily structure to cooperative classroom activities. SIOP strategies are effective for all students, not just English Learners and many build collaboration.

7. Fun Videos

Watch a fun video like the Rube Goldberg one below (or Bottle Boys, Airport Flashmob, or Star Wars) that demonstrate a task that requires teamwork. Afterwards, use the CASEL framework to talk about which skills were required to create the video. Use this as a talking point later with students. When a group is struggling remind them, “Remember how OK Go had to work together to plan out all of the details of their video? I think you all, need to work together right now to figure out….”

8. Team building activities

Try the one word story, marshmallow challenge, or chopstick challenge. Any team building activity works. The important part is the debriefing, just like the fun videos above. Again, have students identify which SEL competencies they needed to accomplish the task and list them out. The challenge debrief then becomes the anchor conversation to refer back to later when a group encounters conflict in a project.

9. Personality Assessments

Have students take the Meyers Briggs Personality Test and share their strengths and challenges with their group. Understanding the profiles of everyone in the group will help to prevent misunderstandings. For example, rather than assuming a classmate doesn’t want to contribute to the group discussion, students may not have considered that someone is an introvert. They might decide to use a written brainstorming process so everyone in the group feels comfortable contributing.

Compass Points is another activity that helps people understand how different kinds of people work. Some are task oriented, where others are more people oriented. Some like to dive right in and attack problems, whereas others want to take their time and contemplate the best solutions. Some like to go deep with every detail, whereas others see big picture visions.

The beauty is that all of these complement each others’ strengths and weaknesses. The danger is that if students fail to recognize the perspective that someone else brings they can become frustrated and misinterpret their intentions. This activity helps students talk about their preferences so they can truly operate as a team.

10. Scrum boards

Scrum boards (also called kanban boards) are a business project management tool from Agile methodology. A simplified version is an effective tool for helping students from kindergarten to high school manage themselves. Students collaborate by clearly defining and dividing tasks. Then they assign due dates and track completion. Collaboration is tracked and organized by the students themselves. They are also an easy way for the teacher to check in and conference with student groups about how a project is going.

Check out this link to my free student scrum board template.

Questions? Interested in SEL and PBL Consulting?  Connect with me at michaelkaechele.com or @mikekaechele onTwitter.