There are 3 main reactions from students when a teacher announces that the next task will be done in groups.
You get your eye-rolls and groans from students who know that they will be doing most – or if not – all of the work, while their peers muck about. You get your cheering and grinning from students who know that this next hour in class will be a breeze. And you’ll get your students who look around anxiously and others in the class because they’re dreading being left out.
Of course, these are all generalisations, and I’m only drawing from my personal experiences when it comes to ‘group work’ having been in all 3 of these positions. I absolutely dread working in groups for an assignment! I think the things I dislike most about it, is the varying levels of commitment that everyone has in the group. If one person seems to have a laid back attitude then it’s usually infectious. And especially if you don’t know the other people well, everything seems so awkward and fake, no-one wants to seem like they’re a slacker, but no-one wants to take over and seem like a know-it-all either.
My perspective on ‘group work’ definitely changed when I watched this video. The panel of educators talked about co-operative learning – a more structured and effective form of group learning if planned and executed properly. The aim of group work is ‘to do’, whereas the aim of co-operative learning is ‘to learn’. When student’s are aiming ‘to do’ they are only trying to get the work at hand done as quickly as possible by whomever is the most capable. When students are aiming ‘to learn’, they are all accountable for their own part so that they can contribute to the bigger picture together.
I think what co-operative learning provides that group learning doesn’t is the ability to individually assess the student’s efforts. When teachers are roaming around asking questions in their co-operative learning groups, they get to hear more answers from the students. As a teacher, I have always wondered how to assess the students’ learning accurately in a class discussion without getting answers from the same students. I know that students don’t like to be ‘picked on’ if they don’t have their hand up, because if they really don’t know the answer on the spot they may feel embarrassed or too under pressure. Taking turns in smaller lets the students have time to synthesise their ideas and share with each other.
The most important factors to ensure the most learning is achieved is that –as a teacher – it is your role to make sure the students know their goal and that you effectively assess them by providing direct instructions and immediate feedback. It is important that the task assigned is structured so that each member of the group is accountable for and therefore equalling and increasing student participation. This in hand, would provide the students opportunities to be fully engaged in the work. The two main factors that influence student achievement outcomes is the group goal that is set and the individual accountability. If all the students in the group know what their learning goal is and know what they individually have to do to reach it, then the learning will be greater.