Since I was a student for 23 consecutive years (after which I took a year off to teach abroad before returning to school), it’s likely that I’ve been exposed to nearly every group-learning model imaginable, and many of those models I have integrated into my own lessons. As such, I have arrived at several realisations about both short-term and long-term group work. Here are a few:
- Create as diverse a group as possible. Students will learn much more from people with different knowledge and experience.
- Specifically define the goal of the group. Students can easily get distracted if they are confused.
- Ensure that each group member contributes in some way. If “the expert” answers all the questions right away, no one learns. A good way to guard against this is to tell the students that at the end of the activity, each group member should be able to explain the group’s work to someone else.
- Have optional bonus activities. If one group finishes before the others, they should have something educational with which to occupy their time. Make sure these bonus activities are fun and actually worth looking forward to.
- Have the students clearly and fairly divide the responsibilities among themselves. Nothing is more counter-productive to group learning than if one student does all the work (or none of the work!).
- Suggest that each student have a job title. This creates a sense of ownership in the project, as well as extra commitment (since the student can now be defined by their role in the project).
- Have the students make lots of notes or diagrams during group work. Even if it’s a pencil drawing on a napkin, it helps to have evidence of all brainstorms, just in case a dose of inspiration is needed later.