Group Work

The research is clear that peer cooperation promotes learning and can foster students' appreciation of diverse perspectives. But how to get students on board to realize the full benefits of working with their peers?

In other blog posts, CRLT has featured some effective strategies for structuring group work and guiding student pairs. Here, we highlight one U-M instructor who is applying those strategies to foster group work that has won high praise from her students and, by their account, facilitated their success with the most challenging aspects of the course.

Cynthia (Cindee) Giffen, who teaches Biology 171 in the Comprehensive Studies Program, assigns her students to in-class working groups that change several times a semester. The class includes students with a diverse range of background preparation, and the groups are designed to provide a safe space for students to work through complex activities, ask questions, and make mistakes in a low-risk environment as they prepare for individual assessments. Giffen requires students to work on complex tasks in groups during class. Students receive a participation grade for their engagement in the group activities, but all written work they submit for a grade is completed individually, using their own words. Students are motivated to work in these groups, then, in part because these low-stakes interactions prepare them to submit their best work when it's time to earn a grade. Read more »

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Recent student activism and statements on diversity from academic leaders have led many U-M instructors to focus new attention on inclusive teaching, seeking ways to ensure all students feel welcome and able to succeed in their classes, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. CRLT provides many resources to help you develop inclusive teaching strategies for your particular teaching context. To browse those, click on the 'inclusive teaching' tag below, or the 'Diversity and Inclusion' link at the bottom of any one of our web pages. 

Molecule structureIn this blog, we focus on one strategy for creating an inclusive learning environment: encouraging productive student interactions in your classrooms, particularly when using small groups.

Some of the best in-class learning takes place in small group activities, which can be very effective for prompting all students to engage actively with the course material. Some instructors nonetheless have found that efforts to encourage engaged learning through peer interaction can sometimes exacerbate students' experiences of identity-based exclusion. This can be a real danger where groupwork is used spontaneously with little guidance or follow-through. If, for instance, an instructor casually instructs students to 'get into groups' and then turns her or his own attention elsewhere, many students who already feel marginalized in the class may find it easier to sit alone than to seek out peers to share with.

It's therefore important to deliberately form and carefully guide student groups, even when you're just using a brief informal peer conversation to get students engaged in thinking about a topic. What are some specific strategies for doing so? The following practices can help ensure that student groups are primed to include all students: Read more »

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internationalizing the curriculum graphic

Research on teamwork in professional contexts illuminates the issues that arise for students as well. Challenges often arise from sources other than differences of language or classroom experience; they can come from different views of organizations, hierarchy, decision-making, and -- perhaps most important -- expressing agreement or disagreement.  Whether students see these differences as being individual or cultural may be less important than helping them identify differences and work through them.  Read more »

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Winter 2013 GSI Teaching Orientation
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
3:00 p.m. - 4:30 p.m.

 

Materials Used During the Winter 2013 Session

Designing a Background Questionnaire
Identifies ways to assess students so that the instructor can form effective and cooperative groups. 

Case Studies
Case studies of GSI observations of students working in groups.

 

Additional Resources

Group Feedback Form
Form for obtaining individual feedback on a group.

Fall 2012 Presentation
PowerPoint slides from the Fall 2012 GSITO concurrent session on Facilitating Group Work to Maximize Student Learning in Labs, Discussions, and Teams.

Readiness Assurance Process
Describes the Readiness Assurance Process which is designed to ensure that individual members of groups are accountable to each other and the learning process. Read more »

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Photo of Mika LaVaque-MantyMika LaVaque-Manty,  Political Science, teaches lecture courses with 100-300 students and several GSIs. He has used Google Docs to foster and monitor small group discussions during class. Students are divided into groups that are either pre-assigned or based simply on where they happen to sit.

Depending on the number of groups and the purpose of the assignment, they may work on a single Google Document or generate one for each group. In either case, only one student in a group serves as a “scribe,” although other students may view the shared document. This way, a student’s lack of a laptop is not a problem, and the number of documents remains manageable. In cases where the entire class works on a single document, the instructors create it, share it with the students, and divide it into sections so that a manageable number of groups (3-5) works on each section. They can then project the collectively produced document so that the class can debrief it together. Read more »

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