Birth Order (& Team Roles)

Have you ever read the Birth Order Book, by Dr Kevin Leman? I read it in college, and much of it rang true from my experience. I am the quintessential first born daughter. The weight of the world was on my shoulders. As a child, I knew without a doubt that our family would collapse if I wasn’t there to help things along. I was responsible and protective and IN CHARGE.

I even fed the baby I was so in charge. And made sure my brother was gentle with her. (She was MY baby after all.)

This is our favorite sibling picture from our childhood. 😂. So much our favorite that we recreated it the night before I left for UCLA, long before people did such things on Instagram.

One story Dr Leman tells is of an activity he does with attendees at his conferences. He has them sit in groups by birth order: first borns, middle children, babies, and only children. Without instructions, there is a paper in the middle with an activity. He says that the first born group always immediately sees the paper, reads it to the group, and starts working on the activity. The only children will do this too. The middle children will sometimes see the paper and get started, but often are busy introducing themselves and socializing. The babies of the family are having too good of a time talking to each other that they almost never see the paper.

At the time, I thought this was hilarious, and further proof of the superiority of the first borns. Of course, it makes sense to start working on the activity. Get it done. Be the first team to do so, too. At that age, I didn’t have much patience for people who didn’t think like I did. After reading the book, I pondered my close friend choice till that point in my life and it’s almost hilarious that they are all first born girls: Jen, Trish, Aimee, Katie, Jeanne, Emma, Newsha, Cheryl, Jane, Ashley,… There were a few exceptions like Claire, but not many.

Fast forward many years, and I’m teaching a curriculum that encourages cooperative learning with the use of team roles and cooperative structures.

Prior to this year, whenever I wanted students to work in a group, I’d tell them to put their desks together, give them a task, and tell them to start working. And sometimes it worked well and but most of the time, one student would take over or nothing productive would get done. Much like Dr Leman’s experiment, with no guidance or instructions the teams did not consistently work well together.

After a year of CPM and a year of much professional development on cooperative learning and a year of experience with my own students, I believe the difference is in the team roles.

In CPM, there are four team roles: Resource Manager, Facilitator, Recorder/Reporter, and Task Manager. The students start from day 1 learning their roles and what is expected of them. This is actually written into the first chapter of the math book. Once students learn the different roles and what is expected of them to work effectively as a team, then they can work together each day on the various learning tasks.

Resource Manager is responsible for gathering all the materials. As they walk in at the beginning of the period, they gather the team bin and any handouts their team may need. The teacher is also considered a resource. If a student has a question, they ask their teammates first, and then if they all have a question, the RM calls me over to answer a team question. They return materials at the end of the period.

The Facilitator gets the team started by (in my class) reading the directions to the team as they read along. After this, they choose the readers as they move through the problems.

The Task Manager keeps everyone on Task. They keep track of time and remind their team to get back to the problem if they are off task.

The recorder/reporter makes sure all team members are writing in their notebooks and makes sure everyone is finished before the team moves on. They can also be the spokesperson for their team and writer for all team assignments (in which only 1 is turned in).

Each team has a placemat with the team roles and their descriptions, and every now and then, I tell them to discuss the roles and responsibilities with their teams. They also do this when we switch teams and everyone has new roles.

Yeah, I teach math. And as much as I love math, when my students leave my classroom, working in a team is a skill that I know every single student will need in their future. I know that they won’t ever say at their future job or in the group their English professor assigned, I want to be Facilitator and who wants to be Resource Manager? But the roles teach them the various tasks that an effective team needs.

Someone needs to gather the resources. Someone needs to get things started. Someone needs to keep the team on task. Someone needs to be able to present their work.

I don’t want my students birth order to define this for them. Some students were uncomfortable in specific roles. But they learned how to do all the different roles and grew. And by the end of last school year, I can say I will always use team roles. They taught my students how to work effectively in teams. And they learned some math along the way.


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