Almost every teacher uses student groups at some time. Many teachers do a great job explaining the expectations for the group dynamics. At least that many do not explain those expectations. Another group, which might be the intersect in a Venn diagram of the teachers above, misuses group terminology.
Let’s start with some background.
When I started teaching, groups were usually random assemblages of students. Often self-selected, equally as often teacher-selected, the directive was, “Work together to finish this assignment.” Most nightmares involving group work are the result of the above situation.
In the 1980s, Cooperative Learning Groups became popular. Hosts of teachers were trained in cooperative learning methodology. Regardless of the extent of a teacher’s training, too often, what was advertised as “a cooperative group activity” wasn’t one. What follows are the definitions used in this post.
One of the most popular pedagogical strategies in the last decades of the 20th Century is cooperative learning. Much research has been directed at the effectiveness of students learning in groups vs. students learning in individual situations. The vast majority of data collected by these studies support group experiences as the most effective learning modality, particularly for students from underrepresented groups.
Many teachers use the word “group” any time they have more than one student working on a common assignment. For purposes of this class the following definitions will be used:
Group a loose, frequently randomly assigned, collection of students whose task is to generate some form of product. Roles within the group are not defined prior to group formation. The group itself determines resources and access to those resources. The most important outcome is producing the product. The size of the group and the length of time the group is together as a group is highly variable.
Team a loose, frequently randomly assigned, collection of students with a goal. While the goal may be academic, it is more likely to be physical (e.g., “to win”). Achievement of the goal is the primary reason for the team’s existence. Size tends to be more than 6 team members. Teams function for single contests through entire seasons.
In Teams and Groups, little attempt is made to be certain that all individuals on the team or group contribute equally to the task at hand. In fact, in the case of a team, lesser skilled members are often excluded from much/all the group activity.
Cooperative Group a tight-knit collection of students with pre-defined roles working together to produce a consensus product. Contributions from each cooperative group member are expected to be both equal and appropriate. In addition to academic processes, learning and demonstrating appropriate social skills are frequently goals of this type of classroom organization. Working together in a tolerant and supportive atmosphere is a crucial component of a cooperative group. Resources (or access to resources) is limited to specific cooperative group members to assist in the cooperative nature of the venture. Size is usually 3-4 students. The length of time a cooperative group functions varies.
Without a doubt, the most common student complaint about group work is . . .
. . . The Group Grade.
Far too many teachers give everyone in a group the same grade without considering the quality of the contribution to the product by individual group members.
I’m not saying that a teacher should never give everyone in a group the same grade. There are plenty of times when I did that. However, those times were always when the grade was minimal and/or the entire group activity was clearly visible to me.
Example. Quizzes in groups using whiteboards to display answers. When I used this strategy, it was obvious if all students were participating “equally,” or at least equally enough to all receive the same grade.
Most of my group work was some level of cooperative grouping. It was uncommon for all students in one of those groups to receive the same grade. Some version of the formula below was used in that group grading.
[(Your question score) x 2] + [average of all individual questions in group] + [group score on the GC] = 120 pts possible.
As displayed above the formula was for an exam.
What? You gave group tests?!?
Yes, at least one—more on that a bit later.
Right now, let’s look at a “catalog” assignment. Here student groups research a single part of the whole topic. I taught science. Over the years, I assigned
“The Whole Cell Catalog”—each student researched a cellular organelle.
“The Invertebrate Catalog”—each student researched one or two invertebrate phyla.
“The Botany Catalog”—each student researched a structure found in a flowering plant. Shown below.
|Notice on the three numbers on above page and the page below. Those are scores received from the rubric below. Notice on the TOC that there are three DIFFERENT scores for members of this group.|
Ideas for other disciplines abound.
“In every discipline, there are key concepts that are grouped together to form larger sets of information. Dictators, kings, and presidents are linked to various Forms of Government. Onomatopoeia and simile are two of many Literary Devices. Addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc., are grouped as Mathematical Functions. Cell Organelles make up cells. The list of such aggregations is very long.” (p 130*)
*For specifics see pages 129-140 in Chapter 5, You Can Do It! Implementing Success in Your Classroom in Tune Up Your Teaching & Turn on Student Learning by Dr. JoAnn Jurchan and me.
Let’s take a look at the most complete version of the peer grading process I used for any group project. Clicking HERE for a link to a downloadable copy of all these as a .zip file. Also, the complete Whole Cell Catalog assignment and two other catalogs are in a FREE download at:
I also used the following.
When grading, each student gets his/her page plus an additional amount based on the entire catalog (the Group Grade). I’ve even used this modified version of the Group Test formula.
[(Your page score) x 2] + [average of all individual pages in group] +
[group score on the Cover/TOC] = 120 pts possible.
I know this formula ends with 120 points and the formula above is for 60 points. As the teacher, you are the keeper of all points in the universe. I discuss course grades in the last blog in this series.
When using the formula for a catalog, you only average the pages included in the final product. If a student doesn’t turn in a page, they get zero for their page, but that zero is not included in the [average of all individual pages in the group].
Regardless of the method used for scoring, you can see how grades of students in the group might/could/should vary depending on their contribution.
This post is long enough now. I’m adding yet another “edition” to the series. Next time, #6 in this ever-expanding series, I’ll explain grading procedures for study guides and group tests.