Picture it—you design an exciting, collaborative lesson that that you’re sure your students are going to love. The best part about it? They get to work together in groups! Everything is going amazingly until:
- One group has that slacker who’s not doing their fair share.
- Another group has that student does all of the work while the others look on.
- And in the end, one group’s project turns out awful, and the group turns on each other.
While working cooperatively with others is an important life skill, it can definitely be tricky when it involves kids whose abilities (and attitudes) vary wildly. Middle school teacher Sara recently wrote into our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE! with a group work dilemma involving one student who was bulldozing the other members of the group. Not only that, but when she was recently absent the group had no access to the project’s materials and no idea how to proceed without her. Here are some words of wisdom our teachers offered to conduct successful group work in the classroom.
Top 📸 credit from Beyond Traditional Math—check out their site for additional tips for group work!
1. Assign roles.
“Assign each student in the group a unique role so that everyone has to work together to make the project a success,” said Jaime L. Being solely responsible for a portion of the work gives students ownership over the project’s success. The nature of the project will dictate the roles, but some examples are: proofreader, fact-checker, and scribe.
2. Make sure every group member has access.
Technology makes it easy for each group member to have access to all work and collaborate. “I have each member share any and all work on Google drive,” advised Sonja L. This helps facilitate the notion of working together and contributing equally.
If your students don’t have daily access to technology, make sure they have a system to store hard copies of their group work in the classroom. “When I do group work, I have a work-in-progress folder for each class. That way, they always have the work even if someone is absent.” —Karen K.
3. Ask for input.
Becky M. shares, “At the end of a project, I have each student write a reflection. What was easy about the project? What was challenging? What grade would you give each person in your group, and why?” Let students know the contents of their letter will remain confidential but will also factor into their final grade. Listening to your students can help give you insider information about who really worked and who didn’t. It can also help you structure your project differently next time, if necessary.
4. And grade accordingly.
Include a participation grade into your rubric and make a point of observing each group’s activity during class. When students know that their grade is dependent on their participation, they are more likely to work toward the project’s success. “If I see that only one member is doing most of the work, I absolutely adjust grades to incorporate that information,” says Sonja L..
5. Speak to outliers privately.
Slackers are easy to redirect, but students who can’t help themselves from taking over have their own set of issues that need addressing too. “Sometimes high-achieving students are afraid of letting others do any work for fear it won’t be good enough,” says Mark J., “and so they control all of the work, which leads to them doing everything.” If that’s the case, talk with the student about the importance of collaboration and letting go.
What do you do to ensure successful group work in the classroom? Come share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook!
Also, check out 5 #teachertruths about group projects.