Teaching Tip Tuesday – Squads

When I was in Boy Scouts, there were about 25 youth members in our group. Within this large group, there were five smaller groups called Patrols. Each patrol got to choose a name and a crest that identified them. This crest was then sewn onto our uniforms and we became a unified group with a name and an identity.

Each patrol had a Patrol Leader and a Seconder. I was lucky enough to be a Patrol Leader. I liked the responsibility of being in charge of a group of kids my age. I liked being able to delegate responsibility to my Seconder as well.

Last week, I discussed the classroom management program called Tribes. It is a great program that gets the students to work in cooperative groups. When I first came across this resource I thought it had something to do with First Nations people and immediately thought that it wasn’t for me. But the name of the program kept coming up and I heard teachers singing its praises.

When I finally got around to reading the book, I immediately saw its value for the classroom. I also saw some problems with it. First off, I didn’t feel comfortable with the word “tribes.” I knew that a tribe is a sacred institution to many First Nation people. I also thought of the negative connotations associated with the tribes that are formed in the reality television show Survivor.

I thought back to my scout days and thought that I could model the smaller groups on the patrol system. I brainstormed words that I could call these small groups for the classroom. I finally decided on “squads.” I also decided that each squad would be composed of boys and girls.

I decided to wait a few weeks into the school year before implementing the squads. This would allow me to get a good feel of the personalities in the room. This way I would know who shouldn’t be placed together in the same squad.

In the Tribes book it clearly demonstrates how the children can help choose the groups in the classroom. Each student writes his or her name in the middle of an index card. In the top corners, they then add the names of two boys who they would like to have in their squad. The bottom corner spaces are reserved for girl names.

After I collected the cards, I thought carefully about classroom dynamics. I told the kids that I would do my best to give them at least one of the group members they requested. This step took some time but I finally was able to divide the class into 5 groups.

I then moved the student desks into the groups and had them sit with their squad. They were to work together all day and brainstorm squad names. When they had a name that everyone agreed on, I wrote it on the board so that each group would have a unique name.

The following day, I had the squads work cooperatively to design a poster with their squad name and all their individual names on it as well. I used some other team building exercises and games from the Tribes book. There are some really great ideas in there.

I have the students work with their squads for half of the school year. We then repeat the whole process and form new squads for the second half of the year.

Sometimes the squad members don’t get along so well, but that is part of the learning process. I try to encourage them and give them skills on working in their group. I also let them know that they will not always have to work with this group and that I will let them work with one person of their choice when we switch squads later in the year. This usually helps them get in the mindset of working with their squad.

Here are some of the benefits of squads;

– we have ready made groups for whenever group work is needed

– specific clean up duties can be assigned to each squad

– learning resources and materials can be distributed to the squads and they will be responsible for them

– it gives the students some responsibility as I assign Squad Leaders and Quartermasters

Squads are an amazing tool that can be used in so many different ways. So try it out.

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