Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Bringing Order to Group Projects:)

We are looking at ways to keep this meme below from happening again.  One of the biggest issues for both teachers and learners is the potential for a lack of balance in participation within a group.  Moreover, group work can be noisy and confusing for some teachers and learners, and yet has developed the deserved reputation for being research-based practice.  We want all learners engaged during group work; the ideas that follow are based on our personal experience and training. 

As far as the learners who are uncomfortable and unwilling to participate we always allow for that option, but those learners are held to the same standards and expectations as the groups and have the same target and content dates.  Since the participants receive both an individual grade and a group grade, those who insist on doing all the work on their own are also held accountable to the rubric given at the beginning of the project, and receive two grades – albeit the same ones.

We have learned some easy and practical ways to keep learners actively engaged during group work.  These are presented in random order; they are of equal use.

·      Keeping ways to call on learners in a random form can be done with one of many randomizers, but we prefer the use of popsicle sticks.  These are inexpensive, require no tech, are readily available and can be stored in any sort of container you prefer.  Each learner’s name is on one stick and they can be completely random each time, or you can go through a class and then refill the holder with the previous names.

·      Almost all learners now have cell phones and will do their best to use them in class, so why not have a use for them that fits within your lessons.  We advocate the use of Google Drive, which can be accessed through their phones.  The groups can send drafts of their work to their team members and teacher, with each learner having a unique color during composing and editing.  It allows the teacher a quick and easy way to know who is doing what, and who isn’t doing anything.  The learners “choose” to share their documents with each other as part of the drive functions.  This helps to hold all accountable.

·      The teacher creates the groups and there is no changing from the assigned group.  It is essential that the teacher maintain control over this part of the process.

·      All work is time limited – work in class, due dates for stages of the project  and final due date.

·      Present a syllabus with clear dates at the beginning of the project, along with the rubric(s) through which the grades will be generated.  The syllabus and rubrics need to be reviewed at the beginning of the process so that all are aware of the requirements and the time frame within which they function.

·      There can be rubrics for self-assessment, peer assessment and teacher assessment.  Our preference is for all three sources of assessment being counted.

·      All prep work is done by the teacher outside of class be it at home or in the classroom in non-class time.  Asking learners to spend time in class cutting and pasting is a waste and inappropriate.

·      The time table includes regular monitoring and interaction with steps due at specific times, if only for the teacher to check if they are done.  For example:  topics and a list of potential resources/references, research notes/index cards, outline, rough draft, non-written parts of the project, final draft, revisions.  Each step has its own due date and may be graded or checked off, depending on your preference.

·      Groups are limited to four participants.  Three tends to lead to conflict and more than four tends to be unwieldy.  Of course, given the size of your class and how many choose to not participate, will have an effect on this.  Never form a group with all “A” level learners.  Make groups as balanced as possible.

·      Whenever possible have an example of a well-done finished product and a non-example – a poor, non-passing one.  You may be able to get some of these from the internet if this is first time you’ve assigned this content.

We know that the time for end-of-semester assignments is coming up and hope this review of what has worked for use gives you ideas to make yours run more smoothly.

We just found out that our presentation for the annual CABE conference in the Spring of 2015 in San Diego, “Reduce Student Paperwork Load With 5 Free Awesome Tech Tools”, has been accepted and we hope to see you there. 

Marnie Schwartz (marnie@ellteacherpros.com)
Denise Stewart (denise@ellteacherpros.com)
Cheryl Sawyer (cheryl@ellteacherpros.com)

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