Social and Cultural Foundations of American Education/Feedback/Group Work

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How should group work be assessed?

When putting students into groups you may hear comments like, “Why do I have to be in Johnnie’s group?” or “It isn’t fair to be in a group with Johnnie because he doesn’t do anything to help the group.” These concerns can be multiplied when students will receive a grade for their group work. This article will look at several approaches to assessing group work that hopefully can be utilized to overcome student objections about working in groups.

The dictionary defines collaboration as working together, especially in a joint intellectual effort. Although many studies show the benefits of utilizing group work in the classroom, such as the increased learning and student involvement that can result, it can be difficult or confusing to determine how group work should be graded or assessed. The main reason it can be difficult is just the shear fact that the grading process involves joint effort, that of more than one student. Another reason this can be complicated is because there are several ways to form groups which may have different purposes and outcomes. There are also many questions to consider. How can we be fair to both the individual group members and also to recognize the group itself as a member? How should we deal with those students who refuse to participate or leave most of the work and input to the other team members? What is really being graded – aptitude, achievement, potential, or effort? (Kochis) Let’s look at the issues involving assessing group work and provide some possible approaches for assessment.

There are five main methods of assessing group work. They are:

  • Individual assessment
  • Assessment by the teacher
  • Group assessment
  • Self assessment
  • Peer assessment

Each method has benefits and downfalls. One thing to consider when deciding how to assess group work, is the purpose of the group work itself. Will the group be creating a project together, will they work as a group but still create individual work, or will the members only be involved in student-led discussion? These factors contribute to the assessment that is chosen.

Individual Assessment[edit]

Individual assessment can be easily utilized when a group is formed to brainstorm ideas and to discuss topics, but each member will still be creating their own product. The students may be required to submit a paper or a project based on the group’s ideas as well as their own. However, this type of assessment fails to take into account any of the group dynamics or to distinguish between those who participated in the group’s learning and those who did not. Another method of applying individual assessment works well when contracting is applied to a group project that can be easily broken down into distinct areas.

Contracting is a method of individual assessment within groups when a project can be assigned in sections.

In this group setting, the members of the group would contract individually to determine what each would take responsibility for. They can then be graded based on the extent to which they fulfilled their part of the contract. (Young)

Assessment by Teacher[edit]

Assigning individual grades based on teacher observation is also difficult because a teacher is not an actual member of the group and cannot know what is going on in all groups all the time. It also tends to be an advantage to those members who are more dominant and vocal, even though their contributions may not be the most beneficial. If online discussion boards are used, it is much easier for the instructor to check in on the group discussion to see who is participating and who is not. However, a group grade given by a teacher can be based on more than observation. The team members could be required to keep a journal or a log to track the group’s activities which the teacher could assess. (Young) Also, you could require individual assignments such as worksheets, web references, or discussion questions, to be completed at certain times that would be shared with the group. A written assignment could be required at the end of group work from each member describing what they felt they learned and how they incorporated what they learned from each group member into their final project. (Using the Forums) A project exam question could also be utilized to ensure that those who contributed most to the project would be best suited to answer the question well. Then, these students would be individually rewarded by an increased test score. (Young)

Another issue to consider here is whether attendance should be part of the grade when involving group work. Since students in groups are actively engaged in creating the knowledge they will gain from the course, it is important that they are present. Group work is dependent on interaction. If a group member is absent, he cannot contribute to discussion or participate in the groups activities. Because of this, most instructors assign from 5% to 15% of a grade based on attendance. (Petrulis)

Group Assessment[edit]

Assigning a collective grade also fails to take account of group dynamics and fails to distinguish between individual members’ efforts and contributions. (Sullivan) Using this method, each member of the group would receive the same grade. Conflicts can often arise when this grading method is used alone. Highly motivated students often resent being grouped with less committed peers. (Petrulis) You may begin hearing comments like “______ didn’t do any work on the project. It isn’t fair that he should get our grade when we did all the work.” (Arango) One solution to this problem may be to apply the “Share-Out” System.

The Share Out System is a method of group assessment where the group members themselves decide together how to assign grades to each other.

The simplest way to operate this approach is to take the grade the group project was given and multiply it by the number of group members. Then, leave it to the group to decide how to split up the total score. For example, a group of four with a project mark of 55 might share out the 220 (55*4) marks: 65, 60, 50, and 45. (Young) Be careful here though, as this method may again lead to conflict because of competition, and many students may not have developed the negotiation skills required to agree on grades with their peers. (Blease, 2006)

Self & Peer Evaluation[edit]

The last two methods of group assessment are unique because they do not involve the instructor assigning a grade at all. With self assessment and peer assessment, the group members themselves provide information that determines their grades. Self assessment requires students to make judgments about their own work or their performance on a team. With peer assessment, students are asked to comment on or judge the performance of other group members. Peer assessment is usually done anonymously to avoid potential conflicts and to allow the students to feel they can be honest in their evaluations. (Blease, 2006) Surprisingly, students often grade themselves more harshly than their teachers might, and are also reassuringly honest when completing peer evaluations. (How should I grade group work?)Asking students to evaluate their own performance can help them develop insights into their learning and help them see the value of collaboration. (Petrulis) It also validates individual effort, self-reflection and growth, and encourages students to engage more fully. (Sullivan)

Asking students to grade themselves or their peers can be problematic because many students have not been taught how to do this. They may give very general responses or give inflated or uncritical results. (Sullivan) Therefore, self evaluation should be more than the submission of a simple mark. It should require the student to grade himself on various scales related to individual responsibilities, group participation, etc. The students should also be required to give evidence and rationale for the grades to encourage honest reflection. Some sample questions could be “Did you uphold your responsibilities to the group? If not, what prevented you from doing so? Describe the most interesting, creative, or risky parts of the group for you. What can you take with you form experiences in this class to group work in other environments? Have your attitudes, roles, or skills changed through being part of your group in this class? If so, how?” (How should I grade group work?, Petrulis, Sullivan)

Some of the potential benefits of self and peer assessment are:

  • Increased student ownership of learning.
  • Provides increased incentive of team working – when grades are involved, students are far less likely to dismiss group work or become hostile toward group activities.
  • Encourages active participation in the learning process by making assessment a shared activity.
  • Promotes reflection and hence, potentially deeper understanding. As students become more conscious of the practice of group interaction, they also assume more control and responsibility for their successes and failures of their experiences.
  • Increases opportunities for the teacher to monitor progress.
  • Increases opportunity for the teacher to identify potential conflicts.

Because each method of assessment has advantages and disadvantages, perhaps the best approach is to use a combination of methods to assign grades. One suggestion might be to weight the assessment as follows: 20% individual assessment (based on an individual essay or exam question) , 20% teacher assessment (based on observation, attendance, and group journals), 20% group assessment (based on final project), 20% self assessment, and 20% peer evaluations. A combination approach also allows for more assurance that both the individual’s contributions and the group’s contributions will be accounted for. This can help alleviate student fears of being paired with less motivated students and losing control of their grades, and at the same time increase the motivation to work in a group setting.

Although there are difficulties with determining grading methods in group settings, instructors have developed productive ways to approach grading and also to allow students to become part of the teaching process.

Multiple Choice Questions[edit]

Click to reveal the answer.

Which of the following methods of assessment may lead to student comments like “It’s not fair that _______ got the same grade as me when I did all the work”?
A. Group assessment
B. Individual assessment
C. Peer assessment
D. Self assessment

A. Group assessment

Which of the following is NOT a benefit of self assessment?
A. Difficulty in assessing peers.
B. Increases opportunity for the teacher to identify potential conflicts.
C. Increased student ownership of learning.
D. Promotes reflection and deeper understanding.

A. Difficulty in assessing peers.

Which of the following is NOT a way to assign individual grades to group work?
A. Have students turn in journals or logs.
B. Have students “contract” to be responsible for a specific task.
C. Have each student complete an individual paper or project.
D. Have students complete a peer assessment form.

D. Have students complete a peer assessment form.

What is the definition of contracting?
A. Agreeing to get an “F” if work is not completed.
B. Contracting with an outside company to assist with group work.
C. Dividing a project into parts so members can have individual responsibility.
D. Signing a contract agreeing to work in the group.

C. Dividing a project into parts so members can have individual responsibility.

To which method of assessment is the “Share Out System” closely related?
A. Group assessment
B. Individual assessment
C. Peer assessment
D. Self assessment

A. Group assessment

Which type of assessment would students be graded by their project after working together in a group?
A. Group assessment
B. Individual assessment
C. Peer assessment
D. Self assessment

B. Individual assessment

Why is assessment by teacher sometimes difficult?
A. The teacher is not part of the group.
B. The teacher may show favoritism.
C. The students will think it is unfair.
D. Not all students like this.

A. The teacher is not part of the group.

Which type of assessment would students have an increased ownership of learning?
A. Group assessment
B. Individual assessment
C. Peer assessment
D. Self assessment

D. Self assessment

Essay Question[edit]

Click to reveal sample responses.

Which of these methods of group assessment would you use in your classroom and why?

I think that using the assessment methods in combination is the best approach. By taking the student’s individual work as well as the group’s work into consideration, most students would be more willing to work in this format. Also, I think it is important to get students involved in helping with the assessment through self evaluation and peer assessment. This can help them understand how grades are assigned and force them to critically evaluate their own performance as well as their peers. Also, when group members know that the other members will be commenting on their contributions, I think it motivates them to put forth better effort. Students can’t just pretend to be helping the group when the teacher walks by and expect to get a good grade. If they don’t contribute their part, the other members will definitely let the teacher know about it and it will affect their grades. I also think this helps students feel more in control of their learning. It aids them in understanding where their grade came from, instead of just getting a number back from the teacher without truly understanding the reasoning behind it. Using several methods of assessment allows for all aspects of group work to be considered, instead of focusing only on one part.


I am not a fan of group projects in general, but if I did decide that as a teacher I want to use a group project in my lesson I would chose the individual assessment, as well as the group assessment. As a perfectionist type person, I would want a separate grade to tell me how my work measures up. Group work in the form of jigsawing would be a separate grade. It is never fair to grade group work just on the output work produced. A fair teacher needs to be active in group projects, so that the teacher can see which students are actively participating and putting in good efforts for the project. I recently received a group project grade that completely did not reflect the amount of time that I put into the project. The grade reflected the final outcome, which included the one student in the group that completely did not care. This resulted in a bitterness towards the class, teacher, and other students. This is just one example of many that results from group projects, even on the college level. —Jennifer Monokrousos

References[edit]