For many students, working in groups can be a serious challenge. Different people have different temperaments regarding communication, work style, and ability to cooperate. It can be difficult to have success when a student is compelled to work in groups.This post will provide three tips for improving the group work experience of students.
Perhaps one of the best ways to get students going when it comes to completing group work is to show them how other students have dealt with this problem/project in the past through showing examples. When students see examples, it helps them process what is possible and what the expectations are for earning a certain grade.
Often the struggle with groups is trying to determine what to do. This is usually the first impediment to the project. Examples of prior work help a group determine which ideas they have are reasonable as they try to pivot off what the teacher has shown them as potential projects.
Checkpoints & Communication
It is often common for teachers to assign the entire project and only collect or comment on the final submitted project. This is a high-stakes approach that can lead to frustration when cooperation is not happening for many people working in groups. This is one reason why many students want to work alone to control everything.
A better approach is to break the project into pieces and provide feedback and support at each checkpoint. Students are provided with an opportunity to check in with the teacher as a group and feedback before the final submission. In addition, this also allows the teacher to communicate with students about expectations and address any problems that may have arisen proactively. Sometimes, students will just suffer in their group until the last minute. However, the teacher can guide the group towards success rather than failure and frustration by breaking the project into smaller pieces with frequent feedback and communication.
Freeloading is a common problem in group projects. There are always students who believe in doing minimum and even nothing when working in a group. This practice may be one of the main reasons students dislike group work. The project often becomes a solo project in which the smart student does everything. One way to deal with this problem is through separate grading.
Instead of giving one grade that is exactly the same for all members, a teacher can give separate grades based on the contribution of individual members. Often, two grades are provided, one for the entire group project and a second grade for the individual contribution. Doing this makes group members individually accountable for their part.
HOw the individual grade is calculated can vary. Some teachers lick to have peer evaluations as part of the final grade in which members of a group evaluate each other’s contributions. This works in cultures that accept conflict more. However, in more collectivist settings, students will often mark everyone high to maintain harmony even if there is evidence that many did not contribute.
Another approach involves the teacher marking the specific contribution of the individual members. However, there must be some sort of rubric for this to work. Essentially, every group must follow the same process for the teacher to mark them similarly. In other words, the group project becomes a collection of individual assignments that are lumped together as a project. Doing this would limit the flexibility of each group with the tradeoff of higher accountability.
Groupwork has a place in the classroom. It allows students to develop communication skills, compromise, and work in less-than-ideal situations. However, the teachers must find ways to help students succeed in the context of group work so that everyone can perform.