group project planning

In “forming,” the first stage, group members get to know each other, explore the assigned task, identify common ground, and begin to develop relationships with one another. Teachers can support this process deliberately by assigning tasks such as the development of a “group résumé,” which requires the students to document the talents, skills, and knowledge that group members possess.

The second stage, “storming,” focuses on the way the group will organize its tasks, divide responsibility, and work together. This stage can be the most problematic for the group and the teacher if conflicts arise or students fail to value each other’s abilities. If a group becomes stalled at this stage, it usually continues the entire semester as a dysfunctional collection of competing interests. The group may blame the teacher for its distress and become convinced that group projects are a terrible idea (and the quality of their finished project will be poor). 
However, if the teacher provides strategic direction and support, most groups will achieve consensus on structure, process, and outcome. The teacher should 
encourage group members to practice active listening, to seek areas of compromise, to tolerate differences, and above all exercise patience with each other. 
Teachers who require groups to spend time on these areas can help them through the “storming” stage.

In the next stage, “norming,” team members adjust their behavior to each other as they develop work habits that make teamwork seem more natural and fluid. At the “community building” stage, groups begin to agree on rules of behavior, values, and taboos. Team members begin to trust each other and actively acknowledge each other’s contributions to the project; motivation also increases. Feedback is frequent and open, and members share ideas and feelings regularly. However, if the group’s “norming” behaviors are carried too far, productive dissent within the group may decline, as may creativity, in which case “groupthink” may occur. “Groupthink” is the tendency for individuals to conform to what they perceive is the consensus of the group, even though they may not believe it is a good idea. Groups must try to preserve healthy dissent, even in the process of building a cohesive community. “Groupthink” is most common in groups that have a high degree of homogeneity.

Stage four, “performing,” is characterized by interdependence, cooperation, high task orientation, high morale, and intense group loyalty. This can be the most satisfying stage of group work in terms of productivity, although not all groups achieve this high level of functioning. However, adequate direction and strategic help by the teacher increases the probability that many will do so. 

A teacher might assign roles to members within the group (or better, provide a description of the roles and allow the students in each group to 
allocate them). Roles can be static for the duration of the project, or, if appropriate, rotated over the semester.

Although long-term group projects present special challenges, teachers who use any kind of group activity in their courses should pay particular attention to providing structure, directions, and rationale for the work. If students don’t know why they are being asked to work in groups or have little idea about the learning objectives for the exercise, their attention, motivation, and productivity will suffer. The teacher should also explain what students can expect to gain from the exercise and how the 
exercise will “count” toward the final grade.
Many teachers provide only oral instructions for group work, but aside from very short, simple exercises, written directions should always be supplied. For complex or long-term assignments, directions should clearly describe the time commitment, the expected outcomes, instructions for the process, group conduct, and the grading 
scheme. Giving students a clearly articulated and complete grading rubric that states the method for scoring each component of group work (the presentation or research project and group members’ contributions) will help guide their work and may reduce or eliminate competition within the group. 
Communication between the teacher and student groups is also of prime importance, especially as the complexity of group assignments increases. 
A commitment to monitor group activities at each stage enables a teacher to assess progress, to intervene in dysfunctional group behavior, to help solve group problems, and to promote productivity. 
If the teacher uses a course management system such as BlackBoard, monitoring group activity can be accomplished easily and unobtrusively. Course management systems are particularly useful for posting assignment directions and other supporting documentation (e.g., evaluation rubrics, textural or visual materials). Additionally, the system can allow students to interact on-line, access library resources, and use space to archive their work. Students may need to learn how to use the tools in a course management system—teachers shouldn’t assume that they are already familiar with a system or the best features of it for group work.

Types of Group Roles:
facilitator—provides leadership and direction for the group
recorder—takes notes and may develop summaries of group work
timekeeper—monitors time and helps to keep the group on task
checker—keeps track of the group’s progress toward its goals and verifies that every group member understands conclusions, inferences, and hypotheses
summarizer—restates the group’s conclusions/responses and checks for clarity of understanding
elaborator—connects discussions with prior material
coordinator—finds and retrieves materials the group needs, e.g., research articles, data, papers, etc.

This is the most crucial step. Keep in mind the following steps:

· Write out and make clear your goals and objectives. Make sure students understand where they are going and why. It helps to have them know your expectations in a way that they can understand.

· Write out the procedure, very clearly, so students will know exactly what to do. The procedure should explain the task and what each student’s role will be.
· Make a list of products that students can choose from to present their results. The product should reflect the kind of skills being taught, and the result of the whole group’s effort. But students should be made individually accountable, so that if one of them doesn’t collaborate and “pull his weight” in the group, the whole group won’t be hurt as badly. That student should take the consequences of his choice to not participate. The group result should reflect everyone’s efforts though, or else you haven’t reached the goal of teaching collaboration.

· Assessment: design a rubric for each type of product, so the students have clear guidelines as to what is expected of them. They should be self-evaluating their efforts, as much as the teacher.

· Set a day for presenting their results. One good presentation strategy is to give students who are presenting specific guidelines as to what they should do when presenting: loudness, clarity, use of visual aids to help other students understand ideas. Ask students to prepare small quizzes related to their presentation, which will be handed out at the end of the presentation. It should be an open note quiz, to encourage listeners to pay attention and take notes, knowing that they will be tested on it in the end. It keeps the audience attentive. Count the quiz grades as part of their normal grades. Have the presenting group members correct and grade, to make them responsible for their teaching. The quiz also serves as a way of the group showing that they really understood what they were teaching, being able to pick out the main points (critical thinking). Evaluate the groups on the quality of their quizzes as well.

· Make sure all these steps are written out very clearly and in detail, and that the students read and understand. Give specific deadlines. Break up the task into mini-tasks. This will help students pace themselves. Make a table with a timeline, where students can go on checking each step as they accomplish it.

· Have groups working on different topics, related to the same subject. It is a very good way of saving time in teaching a large unit, and students will be in charge of not only learning their own topic, but also teaching it to others.

· Prepare a final open-notes test on all topics for all the groups, so they can demonstrate individual learning also. This will give you two evaluation tools: the group project and individual learning. That way you can help those students who didn’t understand one or more of the topics. Use this as a reference to review the topics, emphasizing the parts that you feel are important but were not mentioned, and the topics that left more doubts, were not fully understood, either because they were too hard, or because the group didn’t do a good job at presenting or researching it.