There are two words that make almost every student cringe: group work. But it doesn’t have to be that way in your classroom!
As a teacher, you know that many jobs will involve being able to work as a team in order to succeed. However, many students feel that projects or assignments done in a group setting mean that some members work extra hard while others skate by, yet they all receive the same grade. Even if everyone in the group pulls their own weight, it’s often hard to execute when everyone has different schedules, opinions, learning styles, and strengths. If you have students who groan when group work is announced, follow these helpful hints to make the project more productive for everyone involved – including the teacher.
1. Give them supervised freedom
Oftentimes, educators feel that they are helping group work by providing roles that members must take, such as the researcher or the presenter. However, these often lead to problems because students feel they do not fit the role they ended up in. Instead, let students decide how to distribute the work load among themselves in the way that best accommodates them.
This doesn’t mean you can sit with your feet on the desk reading a newspaper, though. You still need to monitor their progress. For example, have all communications in the group be through a discussion board or email on which you are copied. This way, you have something to check if there are conflicts within the group.
2. Provide a platform for accountability
To prevent some students from doing all the work and others slacking during group work, be sure to have a way that the pupils can evaluate each others’ work. Announce that at the end of the project, all students will complete a survey discussing their own contributions to the assignments as well as that of the other members of their group that may affect each individual’s grade.
This will likely deter anyone from refusing to do their part, but also make it clear that students can come to you during the assignment to report if they feel that someone isn’t pulling their weight so the issue can be addressed immediately instead of waiting until the project is complete.
3. Grade each student individually
Handing out a grade that applies to the entire group is often seems unfair to the students. Based on the survey discussed in the point above, give students who contributed more or less to a project a mark that corresponds to their efforts. If there is any confusion on how much a particular student participated, talk to him or her directly. If necessary, also speak to other group members. We recommend providing both a group grade and an individual grade for the assignment to encourage students to do their part while supporting the other members of the group.
4. Let students pick their own groups
While it’s important to have students work with different kinds of people, it’s often helpful to occasionally allow pupils to choose their own partners for group work. Aside from already getting along and feeling more comfortable holding each other accountable (as a student is usually more likely to tell a friend than a regular classmate that they need to focus more on the assignment), it is often helpful in communication and facilitating any work that occurs outside normal school hours.
5. Create guidelines and goals
At the start of a project done in a group, have students create a timeline for themselves. They will decide which parts of the assignments should be done by what date and write down what each member’s contribution will be. This will avoid things being left until the last second and ensure students aren’t waiting on other group members to move on to the next step.
Not every student will love the idea of group work, but through these classroom strategies a teacher can be sure that no one feels that they are being treated unfairly. Who knows? Maybe there will come a day when a student actually doesn’t fear those two little words.
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