EDSS 530‎ > ‎

Reflections on Group Work

posted Mar 23, 2013, 11:39 AM by Sean Sullins   [ updated Mar 23, 2013, 11:43 AM ]
In this past week we have decided to completely change the structure of our classroom and incorporate group work to the fullest extent possible.  We have put all the desks in groups of 4, given each student roles, and even strategically placed students together based on a variety of indicators.  The students group work is to raise the educational level of the class as a whole.  Much of the work has been inspired by Elizabeth G. Cohen's book Designing Group Work.  So far in the past two days, there has been more discussion, deeper understanding, and greater classroom participation than ever before and much of it has to do with Cohen's findings about achievement being tied to status.  There seems to be a strong correlation between academic achievement and status.

In order to regulate status and have groups see each member as a valuable asset to the group, we have introduced 4 roles:  Leader, Recorder, Researcher, and Spokesperson.  The leader is in charge of keeping his or her group on task and ensuring they are working on the correct assignment.  The recorder keeps track of progress and learnings developed by the group during group work, the researcher is the one who looks up information and calls the teacher over when the group needs help, and the spokesperson speaks for the group during group discussions.

We have seen some hiccups already in the format of the class simply because the students are not used to working with others and often times will isolate themselves.  In order to remedy this, we will be implementing some of the strategies Cohen suggests for the roles of the groups.  We will need to start raising the capacity of the individuals to do their roles effectively by giving them opportunities to learn how to be more effective leaders, recorders, researchers, and spokespersons.  This can be done through miniature trainings in the group work that allow a guided practice of all of the roles.  For example, with an exploration activity regarding interior and exterior angles, we had the recorders practice filling out a sheet which outlined the group's learnings regarding the sum of the angles.  The spokespersons were able to then read off the sheet in the classroom debrief.  Later the leaders reported to the class whether the group finished their practice, were in a good place but did not finish, or were lost.  Giving the students the three options allowed them to see how they can be more effective leaders.  In the future we will have to work on raising the capacity of the group with regards to the researcher and give them opportunities to share information with the group.