Group work has always been a passion of mine. When I first became a teacher, I wanted my students to have the opportunity to learn and work together as much as possible; five years later, I still see the value of having heterogeneous groups of students learning to work with one another.
In our collaborative classroom, students have the opportunity to work with all types of ability levels and backgrounds, but our goal is to highlight and the value of working with diverse strengths.
Group Work Frameworks
We know that students can gain knowledge by working through projects and problems with their peers; however, students have to be taught how to effectively work together. There are some excellent frameworks out there, including Scrum and the Kagan Cooperative Learning, that help scaffold learning in groups.
Modeling Group Work
I believe the teacher has to lay the foundation for group work and model what it looks like to work with others. As a co-teacher, I am fortunate to have ample opportunities for modeling, but that does not mean that modeling how to work with others is an unachievable goal for those without co-teachers. You just have to be proactive by reaching out to others and being open to the work that goes into collaboration.
In the past, I have been guilty of assigning group work without modeling how I want my students to collaborate. Now I realize that I have to model how to share the workload; this includes demonstrating how to work through conflict as well as helping students realize the potential of picking teams based on strengths. Never forget the power of your presence as a teacher. The teacher is the most influential person in the classroom. The students will mimic whatever the teacher does, and teachers have to show students how to work effectively together. It may not be a statewide goal, but it is a life skill.
“Never believe that you are better than anybody else, but remember that you are just as good.” -John Wooden
This quote by John Wooden is a great way to start engaging your students about what it means to be on a team. When we work with others, we really should be serving others instead of competing against one another. I try to teach my students that we all have our strengths and weaknesses, but what is most important is how we use our strengths to help others.
How to Pick Groups for Group Work
One way to help your students understand the importance of recognizing strengths is by teaching them students to pick their own groups. When you do so, encourage them to choose teammates based upon skills the group needs to succeed, instead of picking based upon friendship. Go through the group project expectations as a class and then discuss what types of skills would be needed in order to create the best project. Here’s an example of some of the questions we encourage our students to ask when picking groups:
- Do I need a teammate who is skilled at drawing?
- Do I need a teammate who knows how to code?
- If I’m not particularly organized, could I find a teammate who would help me keep everything together
- How can I surround myself with the best people for the job?
Help your students realize that what makes us different can also make us stronger.