Graduate Professional Experience 1 · NSW Institute of Teachers’ Professional Teaching Standards · Resources · Teaching Strategies

Effective Group Work

The NSW Institute of Teachers’ Professional Teaching Standards includes:

Element 4; Aspect 4.1.4  Use student group structures as appropriate to address teaching and learning goals.

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Implementing group work effectively in the classroom can be challenging for many teachers, however if implemented successfully, group work can be extremely beneficial to students in many ways.

Group work is an effective learning tool as students are not passive recipients, prior knowledge is activated, complex and real world tasks can be worked on, communication is encouraged and problem solving, critical thinking, co-operation and team work are involved. Students are also motivated and less reliant on the teacher (constructivism).

As a student teacher I have seen group work used and students asking “why can’t we do this on our own?” and exlaiming “I don’t know why we have to work in groups!”

Teachers need to remember that group work should NOT be used when students can achieve the outcomes working by themselves.

While group work can have limitations, such as unfair distribution of workload, group acceptance, unequal contribution and pace, they can be overcome with some preparation by the teacher.

It is important to plan ahead when using group work. Students need to be prepared for group work, a basis for forming groups will need to be decided upon, resources need to be collected, detailed guidelines need to be given to the students, the issue/problem needs to be introduced and groups, student roles and rules all need to be established.

I have created six group role cards which may be distributed to each group member prior to group work (click on images to enlarge).

Click here for a printable word document of the six group role cards.

It is the responsibility of the teacher to control group dynamics. The teacher needs to ensure that the group sizes are appropriate, all students are encouraged to participate, group cohesion and communication is fostered, disputes are mediated and group leaders are provided with help in order to be effective.

Teachers can encourage maximum attention from each member with various strategies, including; not identifying who will be called upon to answer the next question before it is asked, avoiding focus on one student within the group and also avoiding being predictable.

Teachers need to keep the groups on task by helping them define their position and refocus on the task, prompting students to contemplate a new train of thought, providing students with information, asking students to provide specific information, providing opinions and assisting students record the results of their learning efforts.

Essentially, group work allows the students to learn from each other and exchange their opinions, thoughts and ideas to expand their knowledge and challenge their perceptions, and as a result, creating well rounded individuals.

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How do you use group work effectively in your classroom?

References

Alarm Clock [Image] (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2011, http://www.faqs.org

Bregani, M. (2008). Assessing the benefits of group work in a school setting. Retrieved from http://www.helium.com/items/1180416-benefits-of-group-work-in-classrooms

Children [Image] (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2011, http://www.behavioralproblemsinchildren.com

Circle of People [Image] (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2011, http://www.canstockphoto.com

Group Work. [Image] (n.d.). Retrieved 8 May, 2011, http://sg.theasianparent.com/articles/grab-math-by-the-tail/

Konza, D., Grainger, J. & Bradshaw, K. (2004). Existing Models of Behaviour Management. In Classroom Management: A Survival Guide, (pp79-100). Social Science Press

Long, J. (2000). Lecture 5: Group Work [PowerPoint]. Retrieved from http://blackboard.acu.edu.au/webct/cobaltMainFrame.dowebct

Multicultural kids group solving problem [Image] (2011). Retrieved 8 May, 2011, http://images.vonadatech.com/Education/Elementary-School/4695536_bp3vo/1/270925112_MM6xK/Medium

New South Wales Institute of Teachers. (2006). Professional Teaching Standards. Retrieved 4 Februray, 2009, from http://www.nswteachers.nsw.edu.au/Main-Professional-Teaching-Standards.html

Pencil  [Image] (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2011, http://www.faqs.org

Student [Image] (n.d.). Retrieved April 2, 2011, http://www.jupiterimages.com/Search/Image

Students Working Cooperatively Together On  A Group Project [Image] (n.d.). Retrieved May 8, 2011, http://www.uniqueteachingresources.com/reading-resources.html

Teamwork Kids. [Image] (n.d.). Retrieved 9 May, 2011, http://www.canstockphoto.com/images-photos/children.html

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13 thoughts on “Effective Group Work

  1. Most of my teaching is done via group work. I have the bonus that group work is explicitly taught in my school so the students know how to work in groups, but I think that you need to be aware of what the work is and what the intended goal of your lesson is to make group work effective. I also think that group leadership is important so I sometimes nudge students who I think would be effective leaders to take on that role.

    I think it goes back to the idea of the ZPD. Group work is effective when working with learners of the same level when you need to work on a specific learning need that is too easy or difficult for some learners in the group. I also used able students to help less able students in another activity where I thought it was appropriate.

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    1. Thanks for sharing! Wow, group work being explicitly taught in your school is great to hear! I definitely agree that the work and goal(s) need to be established for effective group work.

      I think deciding on the groups is not always easy and is up to the teacher to make ajudgement regarding what is best for the task and the students.

      I’m glad to hear that it is going well for you.

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  2. Important area Ashley – one that constantly challenges my practice. You’ve highlighted some important points – the role of the teacher in establishing a classroom culture and protocols that support group work are really important – your role cards look great.

    Something that I am interested in at the moment is how, and how often teachers intervene in group work. There seems to be evidence to suggest that as long as those good group work protocols are established, teacher intervention is more likely to hinder learning – for a variety of reasons.

    I don’t think this is necessarily in conflict with the ideas you put forward in the second half of your post, but I do think we need to ‘tread carefully’ when making the decision to intervene.

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    1. Thanks, Jason. It’s always great to get some feedback!
      That would be an interesting research question. If you gather any information, I would love to read it!
      I agree and I think there is a fine line there that teachers need to be aware of. Teachers often need to remember to fight off that instinct to quickly intervene.

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  3. Hi Ash. First day of a Stage 2 prac today, and I really liked the way the teacher organised Maths Groups. Made me think of this blog post of yours! Students were in groups of four – each student had a role.
    Four R’s:
    -Resources (in charge of collecting and returning resources)
    -Recorder
    -Reporter (reports back to the class/teacher)
    -Right Track (helps keep students focused on the task).

    Groups were also given a group of laminated cards which guided students through the problem. I can’t remember exactly, but the cards were something like:
    -Read silently
    -Read aloud
    -Check for each group member’s understanding (any unknown words?)
    -Underline key points/words
    -Predict
    -Strategies

    … etc.

    The students have been working in groups like this since the beginning of the year, and I was quite surprised at how well they worked in their groups. I guess it goes to show how effective it can be once students are familiar with group work.

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    1. That is absoloutely brilliant to hear! I like the four R’s and the cards to help work through the problem.

      Your example definitely illustrates that one of the most important things to establish with your new class at the beginning of the year is how you want group work to run.

      Thank you very much for sharing!

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  4. I use group work in a variety of ways in my classroom. I think group work is important for the skills in communication, collaboration and conflict resolution that students can develop through it. Also, I am often amazed at the powerful discussion that can occur when students are actively engaged in a group task.

    In my class, students work in a variety of groups. Sometimes the groups are chosen by me – for example, for literacy rotations. These groups are ability-based; this allows me to personalise the learning experience for each group.

    At other times the students are allowed to choose their own groups. I find this works well for inquiry projects that will last for an extended period of time, such as over several weeks. The students are happier when they’ve chosen their own groups, which often leads to increased motivation in the task. Some students voluntarily extend the project/learning beyond the classroom, wanting to complete some at home, and this is easier for them if they are working with their friends.

    Another interesting way to organise groups and to encourage students to work with students that they might not normally work with is to let them choose their own groups but impose some conditions on them. Conditions might include ‘You must have equal numbers of boys and girls in your group’ or ‘You must have equal numbers of Grade 5 and Grade 6 students in your group’. This can create interesting and different combinations.

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    1. It definitely sounds like you have group work down pat! I really appreciate your insights. Thank you for sharing your amazing ideas and reasoning behind your choices. I love your reasoning for choosing literacy rotation groups in order to personalise the learning experience and imposing conditions on groups in order to get different combinations!

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    1. Hi Erin,

      Thank you for your kind compliments! I’m really glad to hear my posts have been beneficial to others as well as myself! It is an honour to be linked on your blog!

      I’ve just researched Kagan structures, it sounds amazing. Thank you for introducing me to it, I may have to write a post about it! It is so good to hear that it has transformed your teaching for the better. I think we should always be on the look out for something that will do exactly that!

      Ashley

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