Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Collaboration Contracts for Elementary Soft Skills

As this year has progressed, we have become more intentional at helping students grow the 21st-century skills of critical thinking, collaboration, communication, and creativity in the elementary schools. These are currently known as "soft skills" in education. According to dictionary.com a soft skill is "desirable qualities for certain forms of employment that do not depend on acquired knowledge: they include common sense, the ability to deal with people, and a positive flexible attitude." These soft skills will help students become future employees, managers, and business owners that have the ability to be team players, to see big pictures, and to adjust to adversity. 

So how are we preparing students to grow these skills? We are intentionally putting them in situations where they have to learn to work on them. As we dig into project-based learning opportunities and STEAM experiences it is rare that our students will be working alone or as a whole group. Small group learning is a major part of our endeavors. Our goal is to help students see what their strengths and weaknesses are as they work with others. 

Collaboration and communication will be key to these experiences being true learning opportunities. That being said, we have found that setting up scaffolding for disagreements has been an important part of this process. We created the following student contracts that allow students to decide how they will deal with dissension:

Student Contract
It is my team’s job to work well together and respect each other. If we have a disagreement on something, we will resolve the problem by:
Rolling dice. The team member with the highest number rolled gets to decide what happens next.
Flipping a coin. One team member calls “heads” or “tails” while another team member flips a penny. If the right word was called, the person gets to decide what happens next.
Drawing a card. One team member calls “red” or “black” while another team member draws one card.  If the right word was called, the person who called the correct color gets to decide what happens next.
Rock,Paper,Scissors. Scissors beat paper, Paper beats rock, Rock beats scissors.  The team member that wins one game gets to decide what happens next.
Taking Turns.   As a team, you choose to resolve conflict by taking turns.

We will not ask our teacher to resolve our differences unless we have tried to follow the procedures of this student contract.

We want our students to learn how to resolve issues by themselves so that we can guide the learning process and not just be putting out fires. Right now this is the only student contract we are using and we have actually scraped the idea for k-2 grade and are just letting them resolve by playing "rock, paper, scissors" because they can spend all day trying to decide how to resolve a conflict! (Yes, I see the humor in this). I am interested to see if this contract continues to meet our needs in 3-5th grade or if we will adapt based on the project at hand.

Creating ways for students to solve differences is important in helping them learn to value the ideas of others but also to remember that they have a right to be heard as well. We have students that fall on each side of the spectrum in regards to sharing. These contracts seem to help the pushy child to back off and the quiet child to be heard.

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