Monday, September 23, 2013

Now If I Can Only Decode It . . .

I hated the first weekend of Wood Badge.

I’m a shy person, suddenly thrust into a milieu where I’m expected to be loud, boisterous, spontaneous, a quick read of hastily-taught and hastily-read material presented by a variety of individuals who had a common goal but used different metaphors, analogies, and approaches to teach the material.
Worse yet, I was expected to apply what I was learning in an environment where I was sure I was being deliberately set up for failure. Maybe failure is too harsh a term. Set up to making many, many embarrassing public mistakes is more apt. All under the guise of “Hey, guys, isn’t this a lot of fun?”
I went back to my tent each night exhausted, only to be blasted out of bed after too few hours of sleep by a madman playing a bugler, inviting me to another round of silliness, personal mortification, forced association with people I hardly knew and had not been around long enough to trust, crocodile smiles and the assurance that the mistakes I made the day previous were bound to be topped today.
I wanted to go home.
I wanted, at 41 years old, my mommy.
Then it hit me like that proverbial ton of bricks: This is what new Scouts feel like. Thrust from the more secure cocoons of home, school, Cub Scouts, and Primary, they were suddenly required to perform in front of their peers – notoriously critical individuals to a man – and adults they maybe had seen in passing in the hallway at church, but hardly in a capacity where they knew they could trust them. And the adults were tricky, too – making them tie knots and set up tents and recite things like the Scout Law and make them do things like CPR and winter camping. This is aside from all the challenges they’re getting as they get into algebra at school, puberty with their bodies and minds, and everything else they face.
They knew they were going to make a lot of mistakes. And they knew their peers might laugh at them. Their leaders might be scornful. They’re out of their element, afraid, forced into doing things they were not entirely comfortable with, all under the guise of “Hey, boys, isn’t this a lot of fun?”
So that’s the key, A key, at least. There are many keys at Wood Badge: Those Scouts are being thrown into the deep end of the pool. They’ve got a lot they have to learn quickly, in a social situation that makes many of them uncomfortable. They’re going to make mistakes.
But with the right kind of leadership – from both boys and men – they could make it through the rough times. They could stick it out. They could have fun. And learn. They’d still make mistakes, but in a way that would help them learn more, not feel humiliated.
This is, by extension, how participants in out online classes feel. We’re starting to see veterans of the Pathway program come into our courses, but there’s still some apprehension. ESL students anxious over how their English will be accepted by their peers and their new instructor. New assignments to deal with, along with new technologies.  Mistakes will be made, and humiliation felt (if I can use President Monson’s speaking style).
So what’s the application? How can I use Wood Badge training to help my online students?
First, a recap of what I thought was the most important things I learned:
Groups take time to form.
We were recently asked in our online community whether we’d like to retain the group project in English 101, or see it removed from the course.
Though it is a major source of stress among my students, I think the assignment should be retained. Learning to work as part of a team is vital. That’s practically all I do at my full-time job; I rarely can complete an assignment without input from others. I think what’s going on with our groups is that we’re not forming them early enough to help students get to know each other in more than the “social” setting of the classroom.
We learn at Wood Badge that teams go through four stages: Forming, when they’re coming together, productivity is low but morale is high; Storming, where teams begin working but lack a common focus or have strong differences of opinion, where productivity falls even lower and morale drops to join it; Norming, where the group members begin to resolve their differences and recognize they all want to accomplish the same thing and just need to agree on how to do so, where productivity and morale rise; and Performing, where they have built up trust and are working together towards accomplishing their goal and productivity and morale soar.
The assignment we have for the group project is fine. We’re just not letting the groups form early enough and work on simpler assignments together before they’re called on to perform. That’s why there’s so much frustration – We’re expecting performance out of a team that’s still forming and learning to trust one another.
Group dynamics can be fragile.
Some groups will form and storm rather longer than others. Some won’t storm long at all. Others may enter the latter stages and then, with a change – a new team member, the absence of a constant member – they may slip into storming once again. They may become performing teams more quickly than the first round – or not, depending on how much disruption occurs.
I saw this happen with my own patrol – the Owls – at Wood Badge. Even after the second week when we were working better together, I don’t think we hit the performing stage. We were norming, which helped immensely, but we weren’t performing yet. Ours is a group that needed more time for the process to complete.
To apply this concept, we could form our project groups earlier. Students are already called on in class to read and comment on the rough drafts their peers submit; we could simply cordon the class off into groups, monitoring for the inevitable formation of groups where most are not participating at an acceptable level, and shuffling groups until all of them have a relatively constant participation level. This could be done quickly, within the first three weeks of class, rather than waiting until week seven – giving the groups an extra month – to storm, norm, and perform. Some simple group work could be assigned as time progresses, building up to the larger production starting at week seven. No real change in the course would be necessary, just a change in the approach to existing assignments.
This is just a part of what I’d like to say. But I’m still absorbing a lot of stuff yet. More to come.

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