Preparing for group work

Preparing for group work

In preparation for my long practicum and in support of my Inquiry on inclusion and diversity, I am hoping to spend some lesson time between now and then working on teaching students in my class how to work in groups. From what I’ve observed, my SA does not do much groupwork. Whether this is because of Covid, or because of personal preference, I’m not sure. On that note, i should probably talk to her about her reasons.

Due to the fact the students do not do much groupwork, I have been hesitant to develop any groupwork activities as of yet. Even simple partnerwork like Think/Pair/Share Anyway seems out of reach. The classroom dynamic is such that students take every opportunity to goof off. I just have a difficult time imaginging how I will implement groupwork in this class, especially since the majority of students are in their second year with this teacher.

Having said all that, I know groupwork is important for students to develop important social skills, as well as to learn from each other, especially EAL students, or students who are struggling. For these reasons, I want to at least experiment with using groupwork in the class.

Humiliation and social anxiety protection

As a child, I was terrified of the words, “Today we’re going to work in groups.” Not only did I struggle to work in a group, but I was often the last person chosen for a group and I found this extremely humiliating. Even today group work is a fraught with anxiety for me. This is something I want to ensure that my students do not experience, so I really hope to learn some humiliation-protection techniques.

I believe that assigning students to work in pairs or small groups of three will help avoid this, but how do I choose students to work together? How can I know they will be a good match? What criteria do I use? Can you tell I’m already stressed out by this?

Observing groupwork

During my short practicum, I had an opportunity to observe a large-scale project where students had to work in groups to create a science experiment. This was one of the most informative experiences of my short practicum, as I saw how messy and generally difficult group work can be for this age.

One of my key observations was that groupwork is much more about navigating the group than it was about doing the work.

Wondering

How can I make navigating the group dynamics easier for students?

My teacher mentor, Pat, and her co-teacher, Rosella, agreed that students could choose their own groups on the condition that the group dynamic worked out. If not, they would reassign group members. This was more of a threat than an actuality, as the resulting group work was chaotic and in some ways inefficient, but no one was reassigned.

Groupwork pitfalls

There were all kinds of problems, including:

  • Students who looked on while other students shouldered the responsibility of the project.
  • Students who controlled many aspects of the project with their large personality.
  • Friends getting into disagreements that turned into distracting dramas.
  • Students who had a great idea, but who didn’t have skills to express it or put it forward.
  • Students being excluded and feeling rejected.

Research

I have begun to do research on how best to have healthy groupwork in the classroom. Some of the things that I’ve learned:

  • Assign individual tasks to each person in the group. Here is a great resource for that: Group Work Roles Printout.
  • Having a groupwork contract where students agree explicitly to fulfill their responsibility in the group.
  • Talking with the class about groupwork and why it’s important
    • What’s annoying about working in a group so we can build some common guidelines
    • What’s valuable about groupwork
  • Start small. Maybe doing just a few small group activities, such as think-pair-share. And build up from there.
  • Being positive and noticing the good as much as possible.

My Groupwork Values

  • I work to ensure all students feel included in their group
  • I’m transparent about why groupwork is important, why I’ve chosen groupwork for each project, and my concerns and hopes around groupwork
  • I set students off to work with a clear understanding of how they’re expected to work in their group

What next?

I think I would like to do a very small group activity piece in the upcoming weeks. Just think-pair-share or something along those lines. And perhaps nearer to the practicum I can draw up a class charter with the students around groupwork.