In the Conflict: Exhibition Guidance

It is the time of year in IB Primary Years Program schools where the upper grade students are diving into the world of the PYP Exhibition.  The goal of the exhibition is to help students synthesize their understanding of the PYP through student centered group inquiry.  The reality is that with all this student centered group inquiry also comes a lot of group conflict.

In my current school community, part of the exhibition process includes proactive classroom guidance lessons around conflict and conflict resolution.  Over the past few years it has become evident that providing students with a simple framework of how to address conflict when it arises has reduced the amount of conflict that impedes student productivity and negatively impacts the exhibition process.

The American School Counselor Association Model’s Personal/Social Domain notes that through self-knowledge application students will “use a decision-making and problem-solving model” in order to “make decisions, set goals, and take necessary action to achieve goals” (ASCA, 2005).  The International Model for School Counseling Programs Global Perspective Domain also notes that student should “recognize that cultural values and beliefs may conflict” (IMSCP, 2011).  With these guiding documents in mind, I developed guidance lessons to prepare students for the impending conflict that is enmeshed in a group of 10 year olds creating and unpacking their own inquiry cycle.

The Lesson:  To start the lesson, students did a brief Think-Pair-Share around the word conflict.  What is it?  How do we define it?  Where have we observed conflict before?  We then spend time dialoguing about how conflict can be positive and healthy if we work through conflict to solve problems.  Students are typically challenged the idea that a “problem” or “fight” can be a good thing and it typically takes some concrete student-shared examples of times when conflict was resolved to fully grasp this concept.

We then spend time as a class exploring what might cause conflict.  Being in an international community, some common answers include “being from different countries, being from different religions, believing different things, liking different things.”  Students make the connection that cultural differences or something as simple as what country one is from can create natural conflict.

After conflict has been unpacked and normalized, a simple 4 step conflict resolution model is introduced.  Students are informed that if they only remember 1 thing it should be “C-T-C-T.”  The four steps include:

1) Communicate:  Use “I statements” to explain your point of view.  Remember that communication means talking and listening.  Attack the problem, not the person.

2) Think:  Brainstorm all possible ways to resolve the issue or solve the conflict.  Come up with ideas and think creatively.  Always ask yourself “what needs to happen so we can solve this issue?”

3) Compromise:  Remember that this needs to be a “win-win” situation for all parties involved.  Everyone needs to walk away feeling good about the decision being made. *Some ways that grade 5 students noted they could reach compromise include flipping a coin, picking a number between 1 and 10, taking turns making the decision, rock, paper, scissors.  Whatever you choose, make sure all group members agree on the outcome first.

4) Try and try again:  If the idea does not work or the conflict is not resolved, pick another idea and start again.  Remember that working through conflict takes work and is a skill that we have to develop and learn over time.

After we create an anchor chart with the 4 steps to conflict resolution, a case study is presented to model the steps. Students role play and share out their methods of resolving the conflict in the case study.

Finally, the conflict becomes real for the students as an activity is introduced.  Students are divided into groups of 4.  Each group is provided a marker and some paper.  Each marker has 4 equal pieces of string taped to it.  Each student can hold one string at the end of the string.  They are not allowed to touch the marker, paper, or move their hands up the string closer to the marker.  They are presented the challenge of having to draw pictures as a group holding only their string.

Time is provided to Communicate and Think (Brainstorm).  The first challenge is presented (“Draw the letter ‘A'”) and the conflict ensues.  As groups work to complete the assigned task, tensions arise.  Voices get loud.  Emotions escalate.  Typically some groups stay calm and work together.  More commonly, groups become very tense, agitated, and begin to implode unable to complete the task.

After a few moments, the task is stopped and students are asked to be reflective.  How many had conflict?  How many continued to communicate, think, compromise, and try new strategies?  How many used attacking language and gave up?  What would need to change for their group to be successful in their second attempt?

As the activity continues and the challenges get a little more difficult (draw a triangle, square and circle.  Draw your teacher), groups continue to struggle through with conflict.  Some become more aware of stopping to talk, re-strategize, and listen to one another.  Others continue to be caught in frustration and unable to be productive.

Finally, we regather as a class to debrief.  The question, “Tell me what happened?” is presented and the students begin to respond in a variety of ways.  Some celebrate their successes.  Others reflect on their failure.  Some name where their team got off track.  Others try to play the blame game and accuse one team member.  More often than not, the class makes the connection that they were deliberately put under stress and in a tough group situation to see how they reacted and if they remembered “C-T-C-T.”

When asked, “What do you think this activity has to do with exhibition?” many students understand that it will take a team to create a final project.  Most likely there will be conflict within this team.  The best thing is to stay solution-focused and work through the tension before it gets too big to manage.

The guidance is not a catch all. Through the exhibition process there is still ample conflict we guide and assist groups through.  However, being proactive in teaching conflict resolution skills and normalizing group conflict provides a healthy jumping off point for groups as they head into the rewarding, yet stress, exhibition process.

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