There Is No ‘I’ in Team!
A familiar phrase from baseball, soccer, and other sports, the value of working as a team has long been understood in sports applications. It is also currently valued in the work world as more and more jobs require group work and human-to-human interactions.
I recently attended an open-house at Rochester Institute of Technology where an Engineering professor beamed some key data concerning industry’s demands on the screen. First and foremost, in today’s business world, graduates entering the workforce MUST be able to collaborate with other professionals in the workplace. Companies are no longer hiring people to work alone in a lab. Technology has reached a point where workers need to work effective in an interdisciplinary environment. The best way to learn the required skills is for students to work collaboratively in the school environment.
So why aren’t we doing more group activities in the classroom? There are a number of challenges associated with group projects. To help overcome them, here are a dozen surefire tips on flexible grouping and small group learning.
Group work is traditionally fraught with challenges. Will students do their fair share? Will they behave appropriately?
Will learning be effective and efficient enough to meet the achievement challenge? Research indicates that cooperative learning increases achievement. (Marzano, Robert. Classroom Instruction That Works. Prentice Hall, 2004. p. 87)
Here are a dozen things to consider when setting up and implementing independent and small-group activities in order to foster that result:
1. Provide instruction and activities that match students of varying skill levels.
2. Assess student progress frequently by monitoring student work and error patterns to identify what needs to be re-taught.
3. Avoid using worksheets as the primary focus of small-group work. Worksheets should be kept to a minimum, if not eliminated altogether.
4. Establish clear routines for students to follow. Model and practice those routines. Rehearse the expectations and review expectations frequently.
5. Notice positive group behavior. Research indicates that teachers should give students more positive comments than negative comments.
6. Calmly, quietly, and quickly approach and redirect students who are off task. Use a nonverbal cue, a cue card (see cue card example)
7. Use proximity control. The co-teaching environment makes this much more doable.
8. Use assessment data to create lesson plans and determine the groups.
9. Keep groups small, preferably three to four students to a group. Sometimes it might even be appropriate to have pairs.
10. Change groups as students grow or test out of a curriculum section.
11. Describe, show an example, or model the expectations for assignments and activities as well as examples of what the outcome should, and should not, look like.
12. Correct misbehavior and teach appropriate behavior and expectations (we cannot assume that students know what to do)