Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Group work that works!

Groupwork, or ‘collaborative learning’, is one of the key mechanisms for engaging all students in lessons. When successful, it can enable students to better develop their understanding through the process of discussing it with their peers. Furthermore, students can discuss their own views in a less intimidating environment than whole class discussion; they can take responsibility for areas of their own learning in planning the course of the project and work in conjunction with others developing their social and team-working skills to produce something more unique and original than might otherwise result.

As teachers, we know this; so why does it so often seem to end up with groups of students scattered around the classroom, computer room or library, making liberal use of the control C, control V function in conjunction with the internet, or else catching up on the previous weekend’s gossip?
Determined to avoid a situation in which I read the contents of Wikipedia transferred to an artfully animated PowerPoint slide yet again, I decided to embark on a new approach to collaborative learning in which students have no choice but to be active, involved and engaged.

Whilst I encourage this activity for use with key stages three and four, the inspiration comes in part from the Sixth Form Extended Project Qualification (EPQ) in which students plan out their own extended project, take the initiative for meeting deadlines, and evaluate their progress as they go along. Ian Gilbert’s The Lazy Teacher’s Handbook (2010) which advocates a move from a teacher-led to student-led mindset should also be credited.

The idea

The idea is that students work in groups of up to six (although in larger groups they could share the roles, in smaller groups they could double up) and each take on a specific responsibility (see attached resource). For the duration of the lesson(s) each student has a specific role and it is up to them to execute this in accordance with your expectations. Depending on the scale of the work you are doing, you could consider apportioning marks based on how well each responsibility is fulfilled in addition to the final outcome of the work.

The key thing here is to ensure accountability – if a group fails to finish on time, this is a matter for discussion between you and the time keeper, not you and the rest of the class. If you want to know how each group is progressing, you can call a short meeting with each Team Rep – a conversation with 6 students, not 32. Gone are the days of counting glues in and out, the Resource Manager is now in charge!

Making several sets of laminated cards is a great way to ensure their durability, and to quickly bring them out during any lesson in which groupwork is to feature. My Year 8 class are now used to using them as a matter of course, and we make sure to circulate the roles each lesson so each student gains experience in the different areas of project management. The best thing for me is to see that the students are fully capable of managing their own work, when given the chance to do so. As the teacher, I can target my interventions where needed, and I can have more detailed conversations with smaller groups of students which gives me a much better understanding of the progress they are making. Lazing in the corner is no longer an option if you are going to be called to account, and the quality of work I have seen produced has improved considerably now there is a Quality Checker regulating the Wikipedia usage!

Download resource cards

Charlotte Grove

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