Mistake #669: Maintaining Group Norms

NOTE: This is the seventh in a series of posts about Complex Instruction

Previously, I wrote that despite learning so much about Complex Instruction in Seattle, when I returned to the classroom, I made a lot of group-related mistakes in those first two years back. My first mistake was “Dumping all that information on students on the second day of school (when they’re still trying to scope out who’s cute and what’s up with Oscar’s hair) and expecting them to remember it later in the year.” I learned from this in 2007, and in 2008 I “fixed” the problem by splitting up the initial dump of group roles, norms, etc over the course of the first two weeks.

Thinking that things would be better, I applauded myself for the adjustment.

Naturally, my groups in 2008 struggled just about as much as they did in 2007, which is to be expected. Whether the initial explanation of Complex Instruction takes place on Day 2 or if it’s spread out over Days 2 through 4, the information is still going to fade by December, much less May. So in 2009 I finally came up with a real solution. I knew that I needed a way of regularly refreshing students of our norms for group work–the norms they so expertly came up with themselves. Also, in addition to not using huddles enough (shame!), I was too overwhelmed launching and teaching a new math program by myself to regularly make task cards with norms on them.

However, I was already doing a Quote of the Day, which the kids interacted with. So I started making a Group Norm of the Week.


It only takes 3 minutes on the first class of the week to discuss, so it’s very cheap to implement. Since then, my groups have maintained the norms of the class much better and the groups have been more effective. Since there are ~36 weeks in a school year, there are not enough weeks to do all the group norms (theirs and mine). But I think it works out fine, as some norms are more important than others. Not only that, but there are a couple norms that make multiple appearances on the GNotW. These are the ones that I seem to come back to the most often:

  • Answers aren’t as important as understanding.
  • Before insisting that you are right, listen—truly listen—to others’ ideas.
  • Question each other.
  • Disagree without being disagreeable.
  • Saying it louder does not make you right.
  • Listen before speaking.

Whenever I pick the last one, I always remind students about the talk-first status research (that the first person to talk during a task has more status), so that the talk-first kids learn to lay back in the cut a little and give others a chance to go first. As a student (and frankly, as an adult), I need this reminder when interacting with others, and the GNotW has given me a system for reminding students of class norms.

Other good techniques for maintaining group norms are include 1) using huddles and 2) listing norms relevant to a specific task on its task card. I hope to write more about those soon.


One thought on “Mistake #669: Maintaining Group Norms

  1. I love the group norm referenced in the image. I post a related norm which reads: “What are you learning from others? How are you contributing to the learning of others?


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