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For all of us who haven't had a lot of experience teaching yet, I was wondering, do students tend to be more productive when they are working in groups with people they have been randomly assigned to work with, or is it best to allow students to choose their own groups so they are already comfortable with the people they're working with? Alternatively, has anyone found it helpful to intentionally organize groups in certain ways, such as grouping the more outspoken students together so none of the other students' voices are ignored?
30 Activity Points
Hi Zachary -
I echo Arlene's point that the age of the students can impact the group dynamics.
When I have worked with middle school students (8th grade) on a capstone digital storytelling project (3 weeks), this approach worked successfully:
- assigned students to groups randomly,
- assigned clear roles and responsibilities to each student, so they could be graded on their individual contributions to group work.
- teams used a free project management software (Trello) that was user-friendly and helped the students complete assigned tasks.
A great deal of time still can be spent on managing group dynamics at this age, but science project teamwork is an important skill for middle school students to learn. It's also important for them to learn to work with others and not just their close friends.
With high school and college students I often infuse more choice regarding group members and how the team organizes their group.
They have the maturity to problem-solve and I was just there to facilitate teamwork discussions, if needed.
27595 Activity Points
I agree with some of the other comments here. Then there always seem to be those kids who don't work well in small groups. I teach elementary school. We've been back at school for one week. One of the teachers I work with expressed concern over a little boy who argued the entire time with his group about how to solve the task at hand. I asked her what her goal was; did she want them to learn how to work together and if so did she discuss and ask for input about group norms or did she want the task completed. She said she hadn't really thought about it. I asked her how this little boy behaves when not in a group. She said he has some social issues. I asked if she considered just letting him work on his own. She hadn't. She and I discussed differentiation and beginning with the end in mind. Afterwards, we discussed that she needs to have an alternate option when she is writing lesson plans. Yes, it would be wonderful if we could have all students embrace group problem solving. However, when it is a forced situation, like this instance, the entire group missed out on the experience because the teacher failed to plan for the possibility that some students do not work well with others. It's the beginning of the year and this student needs to take baby steps and hopefully will learn how to work with a team or group to accomplish a task.
85999 Activity Points
The short answer to your question is 'it depends'.
It depends on the age level of your group, the social make up and abilities of your students and what types of group work or activity you are planning on doing with your students.
First question: what grade level are you considering?
Arlene Jurewicz Leighton
42070 Activity Points
I did my graduate research on group work and collaborative learning.
I found that allowing them to pick their own groups was rarely effective. I often had kids complain about their partners not pulling their weight and my response was "you picked them". They generally pick their friends, without thinking about how that will affect them.
I tend to group students randomly 1st quarter. Then do 1 high, 2 middle, 1 low in the groups 2nd and 3rd and then 4th quarter group by grade (A's together, B's together, F's together etc.--my main point at that time is that the lazy do nothing kids get all grouped together, and they either do nothing and fail or they rise to the occasion and actually learn (usually this happens)...you take the crutch away and they work at it.
The biggest thing I learned from my research is the importance of consistency. Whenever we did anything in class, they went to their groups and they worked with their groups. I only changed groups at the quarters so they were able to get comfortable with eachother and I really did see an improvement for the kids who were struggling, who had the group support.
There was a great book I read...I have to go home and find it that had lots of great strategies for groups.
3900 Activity Points
Hi Chris --
My experience aligns with your research, especially the part about consistency. Having assigned groups (which can be changed periodically or when situations arise) eliminates the drama of who-wants-to work-with-whom on any given day. I also assigned each team a specific work space and color coded the equipment trays/boxes. These routines gave us more time to spend on the investigation itself.
Another strategy I used was asking students to name one student with whom they wanted to work, with no guarantees. They thought I was giving them a choice, which I was, but I also used the information to find out if any students were not selected at all. This gave me some insights into classroom dynamics!
Did you have any particular strategies that worked with your group of "slackers" to help them focus?
7925 Activity Points
Pretty much when I put them in their own group, I had a pretty straightforward discussion with them. They pretty quickly realize that their in the group of slackers. They then complain that it "isn't fair" that they are all in a group together. I ask them if it is "fair" for the other kids to have to have them in their group when they don't do anything? And then explain that I'm giving them the opportunity to show me how awesome they can be. I'm giving them the opporunity to prove that they are capable of doing well or they can choose to not do anything and choose to fail.
Every time, they rise to the occasion and do better and actually learn more in the "slacker group". I think one year, I just did this right away...or a few weeks in and then they could "graduate" out of the slacker group...but if they went back to their old ways, they would be demoted back down. I didn't really pay attention to see if I had less F's that year or not.
Also the book I was talking about was "Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the homogeneous classroom"
3900 Activity Points
My experience with group:
At the beginning I let them choose their groups.
Do a few rotations, then I started assigning the groups. It works out okay once
I started choosing the groups. They would choose their leader and rotate that
position with the person who gathers the materials for the group. No one wanted
to work alone so they always remember Together Everyone Achieves More.
615 Activity Points
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