Solving Common Groupwork Problems
If you have experienced common groupwork issues like one person completing all the work, these high impact strategies can be implemented tomorrow for use with just about any lesson plan you have in mind in order to increase participation, grit and perseverance. If you weren’t planning on groupwork, most lessons can be transformed rather easily. This is a solution for those new to using groups or if you have tried running groups and they have not been productive.
The “quick start” is surprisingly simple and effective for getting students to take initiative and get on task right away. Start class letting your students know that you are looking for a “quick start”. This can happen if you use an entry task or it can be a direction whenever you want kids to get right to work. If there is a specific behavior that should be happening, this can be requested as well. For example, “I’ll know you’re off to a quick start when I hear someone reading the first question”.
Everyone stays on the same question
Positive interdependence is a key element of cooperative groups that requires that students are dependent on one another for their success. Strategies that promote positive interdependence send the message that the group will “sink or swim together”. One way to encourage this is to require that all students are on the same problem. In order to make this strategy work, it is imperative that students get the message that the goal of the groupwork is not to “finish”. The focus of the task must be on making sure everyone demonstrates quality responses to each question, problem or task. This must be clearly stated from the start of the groupwork. Students may need reminding of this throughout the work time.
Randomly collect one assignment
Individual accountability is a second key aspect of cooperative groupwork. This next strategy encourages each student to learn the material because they know that they may be held accountable for it. The two ideas I am going to outline are particularly high impact because they not only promote individual accountability but also encourage students to work together so they promote positive interdependence as well. In the directions for the task, tell students that you will only be collecting and assessing (or grading) one product randomly from the group and that you will be looking for quality responses or accuracy (whichever makes sense) not completion.
A second option that is a little more complicated is a “Shuffle quiz” which I learned about this past summer and have seen be very effective at solidifying groups working together more equally. A shuffle quiz works on the same premise as collecting a random paper but is more interactive. This works well when you are looking for understanding of a specific concept. Consider an example where students are working to demonstrate comprehension of a reading assignment or understanding of a math procedure or a math concept using a worksheet type assignment with questions. In this case, when the group feels everyone in the group can demonstrate understanding, they get your attention (perhaps they sign up on a list located on the board or they turn a solo cup over to show you they are ready) and you arrive at their group to do an oral quiz. Behind your back, shuffle each student paper and choose one without looking. This is the student who gets the random oral quiz. If they do a satisfactory job, they can move on to the next set of questions or the next task. If they do not provide satisfactory responses, then they continue to work and call you over when they think they have got it.
Stay out of it!
When you help, they don’t need to work together. If they know you are coming over when they start to fall apart, they will start to fall apart. In order to increase student grit, it is important for you to stay out of it! You must require them to work through it. If you do a shuffle quiz, you will not have time to intervene with struggling groups. If you have a tendency to intervene, you can occupy yourself by taking notes on student thinking and misconceptions which you can then use to discuss at the end of class or to develop your next lesson to address these observations. Another way to occupy yourself is to use a behavior tracking system. This can be as simple as a chart with the names of your students where you take notes, a chart with lists of behaviors and student names or an app like class dojo which I have seen work at every grade level. It can be uncomfortable to watch groups struggle or be unproductive when they get stuck. Once they experience getting unstuck, however, it can be extremely empowering and those experiences give them the skills to persevere and develop grit for future problems.
When a group is shutting down
If a group is really shutting down, remind them about any resources they have access to like the internet or notes. You can give one member permission to ask another group for help. Or you can offer a hint to one member of the group. Only allowing one member to get help forces that member to share the information with their own groups so it encourages them to get back to working together.
Don’t expect perfection the first time but you should see an immediate increase in productivity. They are simple enough to embed into almost any lesson plan and don’t require a lot of student introduction. The more kids work with these strategies, the more routine it will become. You can introduce them one at a time as well if you are skeptical. Please let me know how it goes by commenting, reaching out on Twitter @fearlessteachrs or emailing me directly.