Productive Group Work: How to Engage Students, Build Teamwork, and Promote Understanding

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Engaging Students. Why Use Collaborative Learning? The benefits of collaborative learning include: Development of higher-level thinking, oral communication, self-management, and leadership skills. Promotion of student-faculty interaction. Increase in student retention, self-esteem, and responsibility. Exposure to and an increase in understanding of diverse perspectives.


  1. Collaborative Learning.
  2. What are the benefits of group work? - Eberly Center - Carnegie Mellon University.
  3. From The Bottom Of The Heap: The Autobiography Of Black Panther Robert Hillary King (PM Press).
  4. Ideas from the Field;

Preparation for real life social and employment situations. Considerations for Using Collaborative Learning Introduce group or peer work early in the semester to set clear student expectations. Plan for each stage of group work.

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Carefully explain to your students how groups or peer discussion will operate and how students will be graded. Help students develop the skills they need to succeed, such as using team-building exercises or introducing self-reflection techniques. Consider using written contracts. Getting Started with Collaborative Learning Shorter in-class collaborative learning activities generally involve a three-step process. Introduce the task. This can be as simple as instructing students to turn to their neighbor to discuss or debate a topic.

Productive Group Work

Provide students with enough time to engage with the task. Walk around and address any questions as needed.

The Single Best Team Building Exercise

Call on a few students to share a summary of their conclusions. Address any misconceptions or clarify any confusing points. Luckily, students typically find group work fun and motivating, and over time will typically have more productive learning experiences Nguyen et al.

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Additionally, the benefits of cooperative learning are highly dependent on the task itself Slavin, Students are motivated by interest: if a task feels stimulating, fun, relevant, authentic and novel, this will draw students in. Students are also attracted by the value of a task: A task that is useful, important, and challenging with high benefit and few costs will engage students Pintrich, ; Boekarts, ; Engle and Conant, ; Moreno, Tasks that are less motivating are ones that can be completed using superficial memorization and without setting clear goals or involving any collaboration. A task may also be overly restrictive, offering little student latitude.

Design authentic, collaborative, and fun tasks with the goal of sparking pleasure, pride, and satisfaction in students. Variety in group tasks is very motivating and tends to keep students engaged Shekhar et al. A commitment to variety also allows you to address different student interests Boekaerts, ; Pintrich, ; Tanner, , and keep student attention as the semester progresses Ertmer, Newby and MacDougal, See Chapter 3: Motivation for more on what motivates students.

Below are some general strategies for helping to support productive group work. There are many books and chapters devotes to this topic. See Further Reading for many of my preferred sources. Below are some of the most salient strategies related to student engagement. Students must have some accountability for their individual learning in order for groups to work effectively Slavin, Follow up group work with individual assessments of learning.

You can also use a one-minute paper to ask students what they have learned and what is still confusing to them, or you can give a single individual assessment question on the topic at hand. Use assessments of individual effort to adjust grades.

Give students goals as a group. Students might work on a single assignment as a group such as an activity sheet , and hand it in as a group for a group score Slavin, Or, they might work in groups of 3 on a set of challenge problems, and share their results with one another Ames, Another option is for students to research different aspects of a topic, and teach them to one another Moreno, Jigsaw activities students complete parts of an assignment, and reorganize into different groups to build expertise naturally include mutual goals. Use achievement rewards.

Give each team a certificate or other reward for meeting a certain benchmark Slavin, , such as when their average quiz scores reach a minimum threshold Moreno, You could use a tournament structure, where each team might compete with members of other teams to win points for their team Slavin, Some instructors use Jeopardy-style games for this purpose.

Use group exams.

One strategy which explicitly draws in both group and individual accountability are group, or two-stage, exams; students first complete an exam individually, and then again as a group, with the group exam score potentially boosting their individual score. See Group Exams for details.

The structure of groups is also important for success and engagement. The group size should be well suited to the task, and so that each student will be able to contribute. A group might benefit from having roles assigned to each student, especially early in the semester, to facilitate productive collaboration. Consider assigning roles to students. You might assign roles to each student in the group, such as facilitator, scribe, reporter, data manager, materials manager, time manager, coach, encourager, question monitor, etc.

Moreno, Use appropriately sized groups. Groups should include fewer than 8 people, and the best group size is If the group is too large, it will take longer to manage diverse tasks Moreno, So, keep group sizes small, especially when you are first implementing active learning. Decide whether to let students choose their own groups or not.

The research is not clear on the best strategy for group selection. Below are some considerations for both approaches Moreno, ; Anderman and Dawson, ; Slavin, ; Bacon, Stewart and Silver, Students tend to prefer staying with the same group during the semester, as they become used to one another and changes can be perceived as jarring Gillepsie et al. However, you might consider switching groups a few times to reduce the risks of poorly functioning groups and connecting students with a broader social network.

After the first such change, students will anticipate the group changes. Can support greater group diversity. Reduces anxiety of non-native speakers, who are less likely to be excluded from groups. Avoid having a single minority in the group. Aim for diversity in student achievement, gender, culture and ethnicity. By student choice nearest neighbors, friends or by characteristics e. Students are likely to need some help in working together well. Below are several strategies for helping students to start out on the right foot, and keep working together well.

There are also several helpful suggestions for dealing with dysfunctional teams in Felder and Brent Use team-building exercises.

What are the benefits of group work?

Especially when students will be working together in the same team for a long time, build in some time for them to get together as a group and socialize with each other. Bacon, Stewart and Silver, Some of the icebreaker activities in Chapter 4: Class Community may be useful. CATME provides several online tools for teamwork training and effective meeting support.

Additionally, see our Group Skill Building activity for suggestions on forming the first groups, and supporting discussion about group roles. Coach students and model effective behavior. Monitor student discussions, especially at the end of the discussion to help them frame their ideas. For shy students, you might learn about their interests and use those interests as the basis for future learning activities to draw them in.

You might also assign them a peer partner who is more outgoing Moreno, If you notice a student who did a particularly good job of planning a project, assign him the role of leading his group during the next planning phase of the project Moreno, Or, if you notice a group who did a particularly good job of a group task such as answering a clicker question, or providing a project outline , call on them to share their thinking or outcome with the class. As an instructor you can also model effective processes, such as modeling group decision making by having the whole class brainstorm ideas, as you write them on the board, along with pros and cons of each idea.

Then, you can coach the class through making a decision among the ideas as a group Moreno, Help teams develop productive goals.

[NEWS] Productive Group Work: How to Engage Students, Build Teamwor…

Additionally, have students develop mastery goals for the team as a whole see Chapter 2: Metacognition and Mastery by asking them to individually identify their learning goals. Next have teams discuss how they plan to address individual learning goals Linder et al. Such a discussion could be framed in an assignment, for points, or as an informal check-in.

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Require groups to self-reflect. What is working well? What is something we may need to change?