Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Classroom Issues/Group Work
|“||Peer learning has been suggested by many as an educational innovation that can transform students’ learning experiences.||”|
—Blumenfeld, Krajcik, Marx, and Soloway, 1996
Multiple studies have demonstrated the success of working in groups for the benefit of the student. Group work to be effective has to be integrated into the classroom on an everyday basis. (Chowne, Baines, Basset, Blatchford, and Rubie-Davies). The idea of group work arises from a general movement toward student-centered learning and partly from the recommendations of social constructivist research whereas it is becoming important to provide students with an opportunity to articulate and reflect their own ideas. (Bennett, Campbell, Hogarth, Lubben, and Robinson, 2005). Lectures are no longer considered a sufficient means to instruct students. Although group work is important in the classroom, it should be considered a part of the instructional method...not a replacement. Student to student interaction helps improve attitudes toward school, develop thinking skills, foster achievement, and assist in improving relationship skills. (Blumenfeld, Krajcik, Marx, and Soloway, 1996).
Collaborative learning is a method in which students are organized together to explore a question or create a project. It can happen anywhere or at anytime when a group of students work together. There are numerous ways to structure group work even though the end goal is academics and/or improved people skills. The activities can range from highly structured when the students learn skills and definitions to open-ended when the students have to synthesize a question or identify a problem and then solve the question. Ultimately, the activities "center on the students' exploration or application of the course material, not just the teacher's presentation, or explication of it.” (Smith and MacGregor, 1992).
Collaborative learning is based on assumptions about the learners and the learning process. Whereas learning is an active, constructive process that requires the student to work actively and integrate new information with what they already know. They are synthesizing something new with the information and ideas. Learning depends on contexts in which activities begin with problems that the students must gather facts and ideas to solve. This technique challenges the students "to practice and develop higher order reasoning and problem solving skills.” (Smith and MacGregor, 1992). Learners are diverse and each student has a different perspective to bring to the classroom based on their backgrounds, learning style, experiences, and aspirations. Lastly, learning is inherently social. Student interaction stimulates new thought and feedback that often leads to a better understanding of the subject for the students.
The benefits to small group learning can include celebration of diversity, acknowledgement of individual differences, interpersonal development, actively involving the students in the learning process, and the opportunities for more feedback. (Thirteen Ed online).
Cooperative learning is a specific type of collaborative learning in which students work together in groups on a guided structured activity assigned by the teacher that improve their understanding of the topics explored. Three conditions are necessary for cooperative learning to work a) students feel safe and challenged; b) groups need to be small enough so that everyone can contribute; and the tasks assigned must be clearly defined. (Thirteen Ed online).
The characteristics of cooperative learning are:
- Learners actively participate
- Teachers learn and learner’s sometimes teach
- Respect is given to every member
- Projects and questions interest and challenge students
- Diversity is celebrated, and all contributions are valued
- Students learn skill for resolving conflicts when they arise
- Members draw on past experience and knowledge
- Goals are clearly defined and used as a guide
- Research tools like the internet are valued
- Students are inverted in their own learning. (Smith, and MacGregor, 1992)
Elements of Cooperative Learning
It is under these conditions that cooperative efforts may be more productive than individually.
- Positive interdependence means that each member's participation is required. Each member has a unique contribution to make an effort because of his/her resources and/or role and task responsibilities.
- Face to face interaction is important for the concept of teaching each other's knowledge to the other, discussion of the concepts, checking for comprehension of the topic, and the ability to orally explain how to solve problems.
- Individual and group accountability means that no one student has to do all the work. The intention of this condition is that groups are kept small intentionally to maximize group accountability. Additionally, each member may be required to present their groups work in front of the class. Members may also be observed and recorded with the frequency of his/her contributions to the group.
- Interpersonal and small-group skills are important to develop the social skills or leadership, decision -making, trust building, communication, and conflict management.
- Group processing is the final step when members discuss how well they are achieving the goals set and maintaining equal partnership in the group. If they see unequal distribution of the workload now would be the time to make a decision about what could change or continue. (Kennesaw State University)
Examples of Cooperative Learning
According to Prince George County Public Schools, there are many examples to get a teacher ready to use cooperative learning in the classroom. These examples are listed below.
- Students listen to a proposed question. They then think of a response to the question. Next they pair to discuss the response and then share their responses with the rest of the class.
- Three-Step Interview
- Students pair up in groups and one person is the interviewee and the other is the interviewer. Then students switch roles. They can then share with the class what their partners had to say about their interview topic.
- Students get in groups of three or more. They are then given a question to answer and a piece of paper is passed around the table until time is up. Once time is up, the group with the most correct responses wins.
- Numbered Heads Together
- Students are all given numbers in a group, and then they are given a question to answer. Once time is up the teacher calls a number and only that number can answer the given question.
- Pairs Check
- Students work in pairs to answer questions on a given worksheet. They then work together with another pair of students to check the answers. Answers are checked to make sure that everyone in both pairs agrees.
- Send a Problem
- Each team writes review questions on flash cards. After everyone in the team agrees on an answer to the question, they write the answer on the back of the card. They then pass the groups of cards onto another group. If a group doesn’t agree with an answer then they write down the alternative answers. At the end of the discussion, students can discuss the alternative answers that were given.
|“||Researchers report that, regardless of the subject matter, students working in small groups tend to learn more of what is taught and retain it longer than when the same content is presented in other instructional formats.||”|
—Barbara Gross Davis, Tools for teaching
Project-based learning (PBL) is an instructional method in which students collaborate. PBL differs from the inquiry-based cooperative learning because it requires the students to actively think. Students instead of answering a predetermined question are required to ask their own inquiry and then research the answer that they perceive from what they already know.
Students pursue solutions to problems by asking and refining questions; debating ideas; making predictions; designing plans and/or experiments; collecting and analyzing data; drawing conclusions; communicating their ideas and findings to others; asking new questions; and creating models/concrete evidence. (Global SchoolNet Foundation).
Four features that facilitate the use of project-based instruction in K-12 classrooms are:
- A “driving question” that deals with a real-world problem and encompasses multiple content areas.
- Allows students to research in order to learn concepts, apply information, and represent their knowledge
- Collaboration between students, teachers, and others outside of the classroom so knowledge is diffuse into the “learning community”
- Use of technological tools in the learning environment that support student’s representation of ideas: computer laboratories, hypermedia, graphing applications, and telecommunications.
How Groups Work
The art of cooperation is established when the teacher organizes the groups and then assigns role. The group is held accountable for learning all the information they find within the group and any additional information that may be presented by the other groups. Overall, students will be graded both as a group and individually. This type of grading addresses the concerns that both the student and the parent have about working in groups. The students’ grade will not be pulled down because of the group they were in.
Research has shown that successful groups promote(a) student exchanges that enhance reasoning and higher thinking;(b) cognitive processing such as rehearsing, organizing, and integrating information;(c) perspective-taking and accommodation to others' ideas; and(d) acceptance and encouragement among those involved with work. (Bossert, 1988-1989).
The teacher is a facilitator for group work. The idea of group work is not the replacement of the teacher, but rather integrating this instructional method into the classroom to assist in demonstrating ideas. For group work to succeed ultimately, teachers need to consider 1) norms, 2) tasks, 3) help giving and seeking, 4) accountability, and 5) group composition. (Blumenfeld, Krajcik, Marx, and Soloway, 1996).
Group norms have to be established in order for there to be effective group work. Students need to have guidelines stated that will promote the sharing of ideas, taking risks, disagreeing with and listening to others, and generating and reconciling points of view. Since students are used to working by themselves, it is difficult to know if they will actually cooperate with one another. Problems such as a member not participating and leaving the work to the others while still earning the same goal should be prevented along with the domination or rejection of group members. It is up to the teacher to promote positive norms that include teaching the concept of cooperation including the art of listening and resolving conflicts, teaching students to appreciate the skills and abilities of others and using incentives that promote interdependency.
Tasks assigned by the teacher need to be problem-solving ones that may have more than one right answer. Students connect with each other to explain their solutions and discussion will lead to more elaborate responses to help others understand the perspectives taken. These types of tasks promote student interchanges and the possibility for learning which in turn results in the sharing of ideas, accommodation of others’ perspectives, and the giving and taking of help. It is the teacher’s job to facilitate the process of argumentation and consider other alternatives not yet thought.
Giving and Seeking Help
The giving and seeking of help are the main purpose of group work. Help giving and seeking is only useful if it is timely, elaborated, comprehensible, logical, and correct to avoid erroneous beliefs. Students may need assistance to elaborate their thinking and teachers can help the students create good explanations with giving examples, creating analogies, and using multiple representations. The troubling problem is that some students will not or cannot recognize that they have difficulties because they do not know how to ask or if they do ask for help it may be misconstrued as incompetence. A teacher needs to foster in the classroom an environment that students can come to each other for help.
Incentives can influence group interaction, and whether or not there is cooperation among student groups. Evaluation needs to be based on both individual performance and group performance. Individual accountability means that no one person will do the whole groups work. However, giving the group one grade means that the members have to cooperate with each other. The downside to individual grading is that the student will perceive participation in the group as wasteful and will not interact. Furthermore, giving the group a single grade can translate into the blame game and ill will toward other members who did not work as hard. Therefore, combining the two will result in the greatest possible outcome that high achieving students will not get a bad grade as a result of the group, and low-achieving students may get a confidence boost with a higher grade than usual.
The composition of a group is important to its performance overall. The variety of achievement levels, race and ethnicity, and gender has an impact on how students interact, who benefits, and whether or not students engage in serious thought. Low achievers and special education students are stigmatized in some groups; high-achieving students may dominate; and low-ability students may lack skills and misinterpret the task. The function of a group is successful when members are drawn from either high and middle or low and middle achievement levels. The mix affects peer acceptance, encouragement and interaction. It is prudent for the teacher to address the issues prior to creating groups by using techniques like having a low-achievement or minority student teach a concept they received prior instruction on to high-achievement or majority students and using tasks that require multiple abilities/skills so that all students can contribute (Blumenfeld, Krajcik, Marx, and Soloway, 1996).
Assessing students in cooperative learning activities can be challenging, especially when there are many groups in a classroom. According to Regina Public Schools and Saskatchewan Learning(2003), there are different ways to assess students in a cooperative learning group.
- Reflection Journals
- These can be used during the closing of a lesson or activity period to allow students to reflect on their experiences, understandings and group work. The journals provide a record of accomplishments and one more resource for evaluation and assessment.
- Group and Peer Assessment
- Prior to the activity or project, a list of descriptors is provided for or brainstormed by the large group. Throughout the activity or at the end of the activity, each member of the group provides an assessment of their effort in the assigned task. A rating scale or mark is accompanied by the student's explanation for the rating. Group members can also provide a rating for another group member and give a reason for the rating.
|“||The things taught in schools and colleges are not an education, but the means of education.||”|
—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journal, 1831
Group work is an integral part of the instructional method. Teachers need to embrace this concept and understand the advantages to it. Group work allows the student to play an active role in the learning process instead of just being passive. It has been proven that students learn more if they participate in an activity rather than a lecture. Additionally, group work motivates students who are otherwise low-achievers. The diffusion of ideas allows the students to better understand the concepts that are being taught. After all one way of explaining an idea might not be as good as another way of explaining.
Teachers need to recognize that they need to make conscious decisions about how to promote group norms, help students develop skill and habits to learn with peers design and select tasks and group students in a way that promotes learning and determining ways to hold students accountable.
The skills that students will acquire in group work should serve them as adults. In the workplace, it is essential for workers to be able to cooperate on projects, just as it is essential for students to learn the skills in school.
Multiple Choice Questions
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- Gillies, R. (2006). Teachers' and students' verbal behaviors during cooperative and small group learning. [Electronic Version]. The British Psychological Society, 76, 271-287.
- Smith, B., & MacGregor, J. (1992). What is collaborative learning? Retrieved September 21, 2007, from Washington Center for improving the quality of undergraduate education website: http://learningcommons.evergreen.edu/pdf/collab.pdf
- Bossert, B. (1988-89). Cooperative Activities in the Classroom [Electronic version]. Review of Research in Education, 15, 225-250. JSTOR Stable URL: http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0091-732X%281988%2F1989%2915%3C225%3ACAITC%3E2.0.CO%3B2-B
- Blumenfeld,P.,Krajcik, J., Marx, R., & Soloway, E. (1996). Learning with Peers: From small group cooperation to collaborative communities [Electronic version]. Educational Researcher, 25,8, 37-40.
- JSTOR Stable URL:http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0013-189X%28199611%2925%3A8%3C37%3ALWPFSG%3E2.0.CO%3B2-0
- Bennett, J., Campbell, B., Hogarth, S., Lubben, F., & Robinson, A. (2005/04) A systematic review of the use of small-group discussion in science teaching with students aged 11-18, and the effect different stimuli (print materials, practical work, ICT, video/film) on students' understanding of evidence [Electronic version]. Retrieved September 20, 2007, from University of York, Department of Educational Studies website: http://www.york.ac.uk/depts/educ/ResearchPaperSeries/Sci%20EPPI%202.pdf
- Baines, E., Bassett, P., Blatchford, P., Chowne, A., & Rubie-Davies, C. (n.d.). Improving the effectiveness of pupil group work: effects on pupil-pupil interactions, teacher-pupil interactions and classroom engagement. Retrieved September 20, 2007, from http://www.spring-project.org.uk/AERA-SpringPaper.pdf
- Introduction to Networked Project-Based Learning. (n.d.). Retrieved September 21, 2007, from http://www.gsn.org/WEB/index.html
- Houghton Mifflin's Project-Based Learning space: Background and theory. (n.d.) Retrieved September 21, 2007, from http://college.hmco.com/education/pbl/background.html
- Workshop: cooperative and collaborative learning.(n.d.). Retrieved September 21, 2007, from Thirteen Ed online website: http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/coopcollab/index.html
- Cooperative learning. (n.d). Retrieved from Kennesaw State University, Educational Technology Training Center website: http://edtech.kennesaw.edu/intech/cooperativelearning.htm
- Group Work. (n.d.) Retrieved September 20, 2007, from University of Waterloo, Center for Teaching Excellence website: http://www.trace.uwaterloo.ca/teaching_resources/teaching_tips/tips_activities.html#gro
- Best Practices: Pieces of the Puzzle.(2003) Retrieved October 29, 2007, from http://www.saskschools.ca/curr_content/bestpractice/coop/examples.html