I'm currently involved with coaching project where a group of teachers are helping each other become better at their practice. One of my goals through the project is to improve the way I use group work in my classes. Last week I assigned group work and it failed miserably.
The task I gave was a simple one. I gave students a distance vs. time graph which displayed two different bicycle trips. The students had to give a commentary of the bicycle trips. Without any sort of creativity or group work the assignment could have been completed in a period (or at the very least finished up for homework).
My colleague suggested that we spice up the assignment by having students create a performance that included a commentary on the bike trips. We left it open-ended on purpose to allow for a wide variety of submissions (live performance, videos, animated videos).
Generally speaking, the results were terrible and I reaffirmed the reasons why I tend not to give group work. I'm not blaming the failure on the students. I'm blaming myself for not being able to set things up effectively.
Here are some of the things that I noticed:
- We need to work on presentation skills. I assumed that they had these already.
- Most of the class time I gave was wasted.
- Most of the groups had 1 or 2 people do all of the work, even though I offered suggestions on how to divide the work.
- Technology problems were great excuses for not getting things done on time.
- Rarely were all of the group members present, which became an excuse for not doing any work since the absent student always seemed to have the work.
Here are some things that I've thought about for improving:
- I need to be explicit in addressing presentation skills. Talk about it on a daily or weekly basis, model good presentation skills, talk about when I do things wrong, etc.
- I have no idea how to address the issue of wasted class time.
- I also have no idea how to address the fact that some students didn't pull their weight. I had them complete self-evaluations and evaluations of their group members but that didn't seem to help.
- I need to lay some ground rules to let my class know that they need to have a backup plan in place. The failure of technology does not excuse you from having to present.
- I need to teach them how to share files, etc. so that the absence on one student doesn't cripple the entire project.
Please help! What do you do to make group work effective?