Group Work that Works

Educators provide suggestions for avoiding the frequent hazards of group work. When you bring up group work, you’ll be met with tough inquiries and judgments. According to our readership, the following are the major issues: One or two students handle all of the work, which can be difficult for introverts, and group grading isn’t fair to individuals.

However, the evidence shows that some group work is advantageous.

Dr. Keith Sawyer, a researcher on creativity and collaboration and author of Group Genius: The Creative Power of Collaboration, says, “The most effective creative process alternates between time in groups, collaboration, interaction, and conversation… [and] times of solitude, where something different happens cognitively in your brain.”

So we dug into our archives and reached out to educators on Facebook to see what solutions they’ve devised to these prevalent issues.

Ensuring That Everyone Takes Part

“How many times have we grouped pupils just to see them interact with their computers rather than each other?” Or whine about a slacker teammate?” suggests Mary Burns, a former French, Latin, and English middle and high school teacher who now provides technology integration professional development.

Norms: The first stage in group work at Aptos Middle School in San Francisco is to create group norms. On the whiteboard, Taji Allen-Sanchez, a sixth- and seventh-grade science teacher, writes standards like “everyone contributes” and “helps others accomplish things for themselves.”

Mikel Grady Jones, a high school math teacher in Houston, goes a step further by having her pupils sign a group contract in which they agree on how responsibilities would be divided and expectations such as “we all vow to accomplish our work on time.”

Heather Wolpert-Gawron, an English middle school teacher in Los Angeles, recommends making a classroom contract with your kids at the start of the year so that agreed-upon norms may be referred to whenever a new group activity begins.

Group size: The size of the groups can assist produce the correct dynamics, and it’s an easy modification. Smaller groups are preferable since kids can’t hide while the job is being performed by others.

“Nonparticipation becomes more difficult when there is less place to hide,” adds Burns. Brande Tucker Arthur, a 10th-grade biology teacher in Lynchburg, Virginia, proposes even smaller groups of two or three kids.

Meaningful roles: Roles can help students stay accountable, but not all roles are beneficial. A job such as materials manager, for example, will not actively involve a student in contributing to a group challenge; instead, the roles must be relevant and interconnected.

Students at University Park Campus School, a 7–12 school in Worcester, Massachusetts, take on tasks such as summarizer, questioner, and clarifier, which are highly interconnected. In an ongoing project, the questioner probes the problem and offers a few solutions, while the clarifier clears up any misunderstandings, restates the situation, and chooses a viable approach for the group to follow as they go forward.

Random Team Generator is used to assign groups and duties at Design 39, a K–8 school in San Diego, although ClassDojo, Team Shake, and pulling kids’ names from a container can also be used. Design 39 students use vertical learning to perform group work in front of the class, laying out their thinking processes on whiteboards to promote group feedback. Students are exposed to a variety of problem-solving methodologies as a result of the combination of randomizing teams and public sharing. They become more comfortable with making errors, foster cooperation, and allow youngsters to use new skill sets during each assignment.

Rich tasks: It is vital to ensure that a project is both tough and engaging. A rich task is a challenge with various paths to resolution that would be difficult for one individual to solve on their own. One recent rich challenge in a Design 39 eighth-grade math class looked at how monetary investments grow: groups were given exponential growth questions to solve using basic and compound interest rates. Math class isn’t the only place where rich tasks may be found. Dan St. Louis, the administrator of University Park, invited his English students to come up with a group definition of the phrase Orwellian while he was a teacher. They accomplished this using the jigsaw approach, a form of grouping strategy that was rated very successful in John Hattie’s Visible Learning research.

According to St. Louis, “five groups of five kids may each read a different news piece on the current world.” “Then each student would join a fresh group of five students who would have to explain and relate their previous group’s article to each other.” The group must then develop an Orwellian definition using these linkages.” See this video from Cult of Pedagogy for another illustration of the jigsaw technique.

Introverts Are Supported

Teachers are concerned about how group work affects introverts. Giving introverts a say in who they’re paired with, according to some of our educators, might help them feel more at ease.

Shelly Kunkle, an experienced teacher at Wawasee Middle School in North Webster, Indiana, says, “Even the quietest pupils are typically comfortable and secure when they are alongside classmates with whom they connect.” Wolpert-Gawron has her students develop a list of four friends with whom they would want to collaborate and then pairs them with one from their list.

Students who are less comfortable with complicated social dynamics will benefit from having defined responsibilities within groups, such as clarifiers or questioners. It also guarantees that introverts are not overwhelmed by their more extroverted friends.

Finally, keep in mind that introverted students frequently just need time to recharge. “Many introverts don’t mind and often like socializing in groups as long as they have some quiet time and alone to recharge,” says one expert.

Barb Larochelle, a recently retired high school English teacher in Edmonton, Alberta, who taught for 29 years, says it’s not about being timid or feeling uncomfortable in a huge group.

“I scheduled classes so that students could work quietly alone, communicate in small groups or as a complete class, and get up and walk about a little.” A complete class of any of those might be difficult for one group, but a good balance works well.”

Group Work Evaluation

It’s difficult to grade group work. You may not always have a clear picture of what each student understands, and a single student’s lack of effort can jeopardize the group’s grade. Strategies that assign meaningful responsibilities or compel groups to give public presentations provide a window into each student’s knowledge and contributions to some extent.

However, not every class’s work must be graded. Suzanna Kruger, a high school science teacher in Seaside, Oregon, doesn’t mark group work since she has enough individual papers to grade and other ways to assess students.

As a non-graded review for a test, John McCarthy, a former high school English and social studies teacher and current education consultant and adjunct professor at Madonna University’s graduate department for education, recommends using group presentations or group products. He proposes making all academic evaluations inside group work individual assessments if you wish to grade group work. Instead of assessing a group presentation, McCarthy assigns each student an essay to complete, which the students then utilize to make their group presentation.

Laura Moffit, a fifth-grade teacher in Wilmington, North Carolina, utilizes self and peer assessments to reveal how each student contributes to group work, beginning with a lesson on how to conduct an objective assessment.

Ted Malefyt, a middle school science teacher in Hamilton, Michigan, travels about with a clipboard and a spreadsheet with the class roster written on it, checking in on pupils while they study in groups.

“With this spreadsheet, you can keep track of which students are reaching your expectations and which ones require more support,” Malefyt adds. “As formative assessment occurs, use simple checkmarks to rapidly document.”

About the article

Educators provide suggestions for avoiding the frequent hazards of group work. In this article, we discussed group work that works.

Carter Martin

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