What an odd and perhaps intriguing title.
Sometimes in my teaching I’ve just thrown students into groups and expected them to work together without clear chances for the groups to bond and get to know each other before starting on their work in said groups. I suppose the results have been mixed when I do this. In a recent course I wanted to give newly-formed groups some low-stakes jobs in their first official meeting as a group. I asked students to introduce themselves, discuss means of communication (here in Vietnam Facebook was the preferred method), create a team nickname, and share their care manuals.
“What are care manuals?” you might wonder. I am not sure it’s even the right name for this (I’m open to suggestions) but what I called care manuals are a document (really just a piece of paper, examples coming) students made in advance of working with a new group. The idea is to share key information about themselves, especially as related to working with others. I asked students to consider what their new group should know about them in order to work as smoothly as possible. I also had students brainstorm the categories and topics they might like to mention in their manuals just to make sure everyone had some ideas to start with. Potential categories suggested by students (with a bit of guidance or eliciting from me) included:
- The best time of the day for me to work/meet
- How I like to work in a group
- How I handle feedback
- My personality in general
- What I can bring to the group
- My tech skills
- My PowerPoint Skills
- My research skills
- My strengths and challenges
- My concerns about this project
What other categories would you include? When students actually made their care manuals in my recent class the following additional categories emerged:
- The disparity between how friendly I seem vs. the reality
- The disparity between how confident I seem vs. the reality
- My speaking style
- My previous experiences that are related to this work
- My pets and how my devotion to them might influence my work
- Jobs or family commitments that might require my attention
- My Grammarly account status
- My drink of choice
- The circumstances in which you should simply ignore me
- My tolerance for lateness
- My tolerance for laziness
- My tolerance for missed deadlines
When I did this recently I had students share their manuals with those around them (before joining their official groups) and this served as a chance to practice and also to gather ideas on what could be included in the manuals. I got the sense that students enjoyed this round and got something out of sharing their manuals with those around them even if they were likely not to be in the same group. Then, when I assigned the groups and tasked students with sharing their manuals (along with the aforementioned jobs) they dove right in. It seemed like students enjoyed the chance to learn about each other and their lives and preferences while also getting useful information that could be helpful for their group work.
Here is an example (shared with excited and seemingly honored/flattered permission).
Yes, sharing this example was one of the main reasons behind this blog post. I honestly cannot say that the groups this term worked astoundingly better than in previous terms. I do think this sort of sharing is valuable. My sense is that my students did not have much previous experience thinking in these terms. In their final reflections on the course, some students mentioned challenges and tensions within their groups and I wonder if this activity might have in some way helped diffuse such tensions by allowing for and addressing personal and personality differences. I would surely try the activity again.
As a final thought, I can still remember where and I when I learned this idea/activity. It was in 2010 on a teacher training course and my mentor set up the activity for teachers who would be sharing practice teaching lessons and giving each other feedback on the lessons. He shared his own manual aloud and I was struck with how sincere and open he was. I got the sense that participants got a better understanding of him as a person from hearing him share aspects of his manual. I think maybe this level of vulnerability helped forge a closer connection and a better understanding. With that in mind and hopes to model how it might look (and to assuage any fears that the manuals need to look professional) I shared my own care manual with the class. And here it is.