Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Ideas About Small Group Management: Why Every Teacher Should Visit A Cheerleading Gym

Recently, I visited my cousin at her cheerleading gym (she co-founded it!). It struck me as I watched the team members interacting and the coaches giving direct and specific feedback and praise, that this structure is quite parallel to the way I like to run small groups. 

In my opinion, (and of course, depending on the class ) small groups don't have to be constantly rotating with teacher-led guided reading or teacher-led skill group.  Sitting in one place, especially if you happen to have challenging behaviors or ability levels to meet in your room, just isn't always do-able for the stretches of time between transitions.  I would rather move.  I want the kids basically stationary ( 3 transitions tops ) and I want to travel. And traveling is more than just "floating" or monitoring. Some of my most valuable instruction and re-teaching happens in 2 minute increments as I travel between groups to give specific skill instruction and feedback.  This method can be used with the Daily 5, guided reading, or common core aligned curricula for Reading and/or Math BUILD stations.  Some literacy coaches may not agree. In fact in my personal experiences recently I was consistently reminded that I was to be at one spot, leading guided reading.  My students didn't respond to that well at all. They needed to be active and independent during this valuable learning block, not reading a book about frogs because it would be a quick supplement to meet a science standard.  Below is what I saw at the gym: 

Students teaching and encouraging their peers.

Observing technical details and redirecting teammates in order to better their performance. 
Safety and respect and trust have to be a focus at all times. 

Coaches introduce and teach sequences, then allow groups to run them and run them again in order to work out the kinks. 

Coaches float to reteach and clarify but are otherwise observing and encouraging. 

Students know how to wait for the next instruction. You can constantly observe students reminding other teammates how to perform a movement in order to better the whole. 

When praise is given and other team mates don't hear they stop everyone to reiterate the praise specifically. They call out mistakes and lateness so the team can encourage and remind each other. 

"Catch one, dip three, leg seven!" Etc.  coaches are constantly using technical language. 
Vocabulary must be built and understood for the moves to look good and the safety to be there. 

Repetition repetition repetition. 

Move and run routine in between lots of coaching. Specific and explicit corrections are made.
No unnecessary ignoring of wrong work to give them time to get it. Reinstruct immediately. Insist on the best.
"Everyone stop and watch how they do this!" Coaches reinforce positive actions with immediate praise and giving a chance for team members to shine in front of their peers.  "What did you notice about that hold?" Conversation is held, then peers tell one another about the good things they saw.  

Coaches (one seen here on left) constantly observe, redirect, participate, and praise specific points in the stunt. Traveling to each set of team members adds to the sense of team and importance of each perso. To that team-- everyone is seen by a coach and is given specific feedback. 

Coaches look on after assigning team members to practice one stunt sequence in detail.

Safety is top priority every second. The team members know technical aspects of stunts and seek to perfect it with their coaches demonstration and corrections immediately at the beginning of a misstep.

Students not only observe, but also communicate by speaking and listening effectively as active participants in the small stunt. In turn, the larger routine is made better. This is a great example of seeing the bigger picture and beginning with the end in mind.