Thursday, March 03, 2005

More complete talk about group work

The business world tells us that they want people that are good at collaboration. Being that our job is to prepare the students for the future, this skill should become part of what we teach in the classroom.

The first thing to do as you prepare to use group work as part of the learning process is to setup your groups. Never allow the students to set up the groups, you are only inviting disaster. There are many ways to set up groups. I like to spread the abilities out between the groups. The smartest student isn’t always the one who can lead the group through to a conclusion. I also like to mix boys and girls up in the groups. They tackle problems from different ways, so it enhances the learning taking place. Also, change the groups after every section, so they learn to work with different people. This makes it a more real world experience.

Size of the group is another part of the equation. A lot depends on the lesson being used. Two person groups are fine for a short term group that lasts one day. If you are going to have it go longer, the group should be at least three to four students. The reason for this is the fact that what is the group going to do if the next day one of the students isn’t there. With three or four students you will at least have a group of two or three to continue on if someone is missing.

Focus is the most important part of using groups as a tool for learning. If you as a teacher don’t provide a structure within the lesson, you will lose the students. I like to call this the “Driving Question”. This is what they are to be focusing on as they work together. Decide what you want them to learn, set the goals, and then communicate to the students your expectations.

Another important thing to do is to set time limits. If you leave it wide open as to when they need to complete the assignment you will find they take much longer to accomplish the goals. This leads to your frustration which leads to not wanting to use grouping. Set time limits for each part, and then check with the groups to see how they are doing. If you need to make adjustments feel free to, unless you find they are taking advantage of it.

As you begin the groups, realize the students may not know how to work in a group. This is something that we as teachers shouldn’t take for granted. Talk about using listening skills, the fact that only one person is speaking at a time. Explain that arguing doesn’t solve anything. They must learn, when there are differences of opinion, to share why they feel the way they do and support it with reasons. We also talk about the importance that everyone be a participant in the group process. Another thing I tell the groups is that they are not to ask me, the teacher, a question till they’ve talked about it in the group. If the group can’t answer the question, then I will gladly help them out as a group. This fosters dependence on their group.

Make sure that while the groups are working that you are filtering around the room listening in to what they are doing. This allows you to quickly help a group refocus back on the task at hand if they go astray.

One of the ways I assess how their group functioned is to grade each student on how they worked in the group. At the end of the project, I sit down with each group and have the students grade on a scale of 1-10 how each person participated. Then I average all the input by the students. I found that the students are very fair. Because I filtered through the groups, I already have a good idea how hard each person had worked.

You will find that students will enjoy doing collaboration far better then doing it individually and my observation has been that they learn more. I did some research with my classes on how it affected their learning. I provided questions dealing with a specific chapter and they had to find the answers all on their own with no help. The room was totally quiet. The next day I quizzed them from the paper and established a base point. I then had them meet in groups and answer a set of questions dealing with the next chapter. Both chapters were similar and had similar questions. The next day I quizzed them again and found a marked improvement, by a whole grade, in their learning.

In conclusion, from observation and research that collaboration (group work) when used properly can be an excellent learning tool. I hope you will find using this learning tool as stimulating and rewarding as I have both for the students and yourself.

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