collaborative learning, students learn cooperatively rather
than competitively. Actively engaging in cooperative learning
activities, they work together, often seeking solutions to
significant problems. Working in heterogeneous groups, each
group member is often responsible for a specific task.
find many benefits for this process, including:
of more challenging tasks without making the workload
students with extensive one-on-one tutoring
students with the deeper understanding that comes
only from teaching material (cognitive rehearsal)
Leads to the
generation of more and better questions
Jigsaw is an
ideal structure for laboratory and design projects
persistence in the completion of assignments and
the likelihood of successful completion of assignments
wean themselves away from considering teachers the
sole sources of knowledge and understanding
goals rather than performance goals
Promotes a pattern
of mastery attribution rather than a helpless attribution
Establishing a Cooperative
Although an increasing
number of students are familiar with group work, it is a
new and unfamiliar process for many others. Therefore it
is important to introduce the process of collaborative learning
carefully, to create a climate that encourages active student
participation and effective cooperation among peers. This
is best done at the beginning of the semester, preferably
on the first day of class.
Student Interviews and
At the first class meeting,
students are a little shy and apprehensive about starting
a new class. A good way to put them more at ease while introducing
the idea of collaborative learning is to tell them that
their first assignment is to get to know one of their neighbors,
a student sitting next to them. Their tasks are to interview
each other and then introduce their interview partner to
the class. Tell them how much time they will have to complete
their task; ten minutes should be adequate. Late students
can work in a group of three or else prepare to introduce
Ask the class to help you
generate a list of things you might want to know about each
- Put the name first, and let the
students add things like major, where they live, career
- Students may pass on any question
they dont want to answer except their name.
- If the students dont mention
these, you may include something about favorite food,
hobbies, favorite book or film, something that could
create some common ground and shared interests.
- Students learn from this first
activity that they are going to be learning together
with their fellow students, rather than in isolation,
or competing against them.
Classroom Management Technique:
Bringing the Group Together
Once people start participating
and talking to each other, the noise level can get pretty
high. While there are several ways of getting the groups
attention, the most effective method will be the one the group
chooses consensually. If the group has chosen the method,
they are much more likely to follow it. The following three
options can work well.
Visual Cue: Lights
turn the lights off to signal closing time for the discussions.
This is often a popular method, but remember to ask if anyone
has a problem with it since agreement is important here.
Some people really object to this, and overriding a students
concerns in the beginning makes it much harder to effectively
teach them later.
Sound Cue: Clapping Hands
This can work if they are
listening. If the class agrees to use this signal, try it
a few times. If it doesnt work, have them choose an
Visual Cue: Raise One
The idea is as the hand
goes up the mouth closes. The teacher starts, and as students
see, they do the same thing until gradually the whole class
is quiet. If you can get agreement, this actually works
the best, but again only if the students agree.
Preparing the Groups
It helps to also circulate
to each group and give them warning signals. Usually a one
or two minute warning to "come to a stopping place"
works well. Since not every student will entirely finish
a task to their satisfaction, the words "stopping place"
make it acceptable for them to determine what constitutes
closure for their activity.
Large Group Introductions
After the students have
concluded their interviews, they put their chairs in a circle
so that everyone can see each other while they do their
introductions. If time becomes short, students may give
their partners name and one " fascinating fact
about them. This can be a good time to take attendance and
to learn how to pronounce students names as well.
Large Group Processing
Ask the students what the
class activities have told them so far about the values
and principles of the class, or more simply,
"What do you think
your teacher's ideas are about teaching and learning
based on your experiences so far?"
"What does it
mean to sit sometimes in a circle rather with the desks
all facing the front of the room?"
This can be a good starting
place to talk about active learning, students taking responsibility
for their learning from peers, and other such ideas that
are important to your teaching philosophy and style. It
can also be a time for students who are skeptical about
this process to begin to question their own ideas about
teaching and learning as they hear what their peers think
of the experience.
CREATING CONSENSUAL GROUND
RULES FOR EFFECTIVE GROUP WORK
any small group activities begin, it is important to create
a safe and positive classroom environment so that the students
can engage in thoughtful and analytical discussions.
In these discussions they will
hear divergent and challenging points of view, and they will
need to develop a deeper understanding of various perspectives.
This will not happen by itself, so the semester should begin
with the students actively collaborating to establish a safe
and stimulating climate for discussions.
The first step is to set ground
rules consensually. These rules are generally fairly simple,
and most groups come up with the same things about respect,
honesty, allowing people to finish their thoughts, criticizing
the idea and not the person, and respecting confidentiality.
It is tempting to just pass out a list of these rules and go
over them, but there is a much stronger commitment to ground
rules if the group generates them.
The students begin thinking
about ground rules by drawing from their own experience, or
writing about a friend with whom they are comfortable talking.
A good way to start is to ask students:
"What does that person
do to make you feel comfortable and to stimulate your thinking?"
Then remind them that:
"Our goal is to recreate
these kinds of conversations here in the classroom."
Students then write for about
five to ten minutes on this topic, and in small groups they
come up with three "agreements." This stresses the
cooperative nature of these ground rules. Each group then
reads their agreements to the larger group, and together they
create a class "constitution". The process of forming
these agreements is important. Even though it takes time in
the beginning, when the process is done:
The level of active
The involvement students
have with the discussion topics increases
they give each other and the teacher are all much stronger.
Four to six is a good size
for a group. If a group gets any larger than that, a few vocal
people will take over, and the quieter people will not be
as involved as they could be. According to Drs. David W. and
Roger R. Johnson, co-directors of the University of Minnesotas
Cooperative Learning Center, smaller groups are the most successful
ones. In fact, they recommend starting with dyads for many
collaborative learning activities and increasing group size
only as projects increase in difficulty.
While it may seem paradoxical
to begin a discussion of group composition with the individual,
an effective group is composed of well-prepared individuals,
much like a good symphony orchestra or a basketball team.
Therefore, a good way to build effective groups is to start
with individual preparation.
One of the reasons that students
do not participate in small or large group discussions is
that they are afraid their ideas will be ridiculed. Unlike
highly verbal students who will speak up frequently and spontaneously,
other students may feel unprepared to contribute any ideas
on a topic until they have thought about it for a while. Having
them write about a topic before they come to the group ensures
that they will engage in the learning process and not just
sit on the sidelines. It also gives them notes to refer to
and, if necessary, to read from when they begin their group
There are several ways to
Using a form adapted from Learning
though Discussion, students do a critical summary or
evaluation for the assigned reading. This form can be adapted
for several levels. The third level contains all stages
Blooms taxonomy so the students are practicing
their critical thinking skills as they prepare. The students
prepare a discussion outline before class and refer to it
during their group work.
Students begin the activity by free
writing or clustering in response to a teacher-directed
prompt. This ensures that every student is involved in the
process. The teacher circulates to verify that students
are doing the task and to answer any questions.
- Students know whether or not they
must share their writing. That way they can use private
writing to explore an idea more deeply.
- They also begin to see that writing
can be a useful personal act, not just a chore to please
- Students may mark sections they want
the teacher to look at or comment on.
Small Group Composition
Most research suggests that heterogeneously
mixed groups work the best, ones that contain students with
mixed levels of ability, different genders or ethnicity, etc.
It seems that the ideal is a group that has enough difference
to stimulate it and enough goodwill and desire to work cooperatively.
Since the work on ground rules and classroom climate has addressed
cooperation, let us look at how to structure diverse groups.
DYADS: Using dyads, groups of
two, can be good way to start a small group activity. This
technique can work in two ways:
- To start a small group process or
- To encourage participation during
a lecture by giving students a chance to process the information
and to stay focused on the material.
Have students begin by "talking
to their neighbor" about a specific topic. Form a group
of three if there are an odd number of students. This will:
- Encourage even quiet people to participate
- Reduce isolation and alienation in
- Develop a positive classroom climate.
EXPANDED DYADS: Dyads can build
into groups of four and/or six. Again this gives a student
who is not used to participating in class another safe step
to further involvement. Over the course of a semester, with
careful guidance and encouragement from the teacher, and
increasingly from the other students, a quiet student can
move from writing individually to:
- Speaking in dyads
- Speaking in a small group
- Speaking to a large group.
Since public speaking is many peoples
greatest fear, this progress is not insignificant.
Ideas for Dividing Groups
A simple way to divide groups is by counting.
For six groups, count from one to six. This effectively gets
people to interact with people other than the ones they sit
by every session.
Professor Barbara Galvin sometimes divides
groups by birth order, oldest children, middle and youngest.
This is a good way of establishing common ground among students
from diverse backgrounds.
Another way to create interest groups
is by having students identify a favorite food, music, sport,
etc. and form groups based on these associations.
If students are working on a controversial
topic, have them line up according to where they "stand"
on the issue. For example, people who strongly support gun
control would stand on the right side of the room and people
who strongly oppose it would stand on the left. Those in the
middle have to figure where in the middle of a line they belong.
The teacher now has several options.
- Form a group with representative from
both ends and the middle.
- Take the strongest "pros"
and have them argue the "anti" case and do the
same for the "antis". The middles can be the judges
or form their own groups to form a compromise position that
takes both sides into account.
- Place the students into small groups.
- Divide the task to be learned into
segments, ensuring that there is one segment for each group
- Participants from each group who have
the same segment combine into groups and study together.
- They then return to their original
groups and teach their segment to their group members.
Each group takes responsibility for a
different segment and then presents their information to the
class as a whole.
To make the process largely participation,
students cannot lecture to the class, but must find a way
to teach their peers that is interactive. Students brainstorm
about effective learning strategies they have experienced
in this class and in other classes as well. This will be more
challenging for the students but can be rewarding as well
since students will be motivated to think deeply about their
subject as they devise teaching strategies. They may also
come up with some very creative approaches.
If you have any teachers guide or
manuals with appropriate suggestions, you may provide these
as a resource for your students as well. It can help to make
a map on the board showing where each group goes. Expect a
little confusion and milling about and "direct traffic"
A group can work on any skill that an individual
student can. Here it is useful for the teacher to consider his or
her educational objectives and then imagine how they might be achieved
through group work. Sample group tasks could be:
- Peer reviews
- Problem solving
- Working on individual aspects of a larger
- Summarizing information
- Applying concepts from the class to their
experiences or examples provided by the instructor
- Analyzing a passage from the text.
A good way to keep students involved, focused,
and on task is to assign roles for group members. Some typical roles
are: recorder, facilitator, and presenter. Other roles may arise from
the groups current task such as: timekeeper or a "devils
Notes the names of the participants and
their roles, writes down the main ideas of the group, fills
out the groups report form, and turns it in at the end
of the class.
Keeps track of the groups task.
He or she makes sure that they follow the key steps to fulfill
it and that everyone contributes to the group effort.
Presents group's findings to the larger
group or the class as a whole. He or she may also respond
to questions from the larger group.
Helps the group set deadlines for their
subtasks and to keep track of those deadlines.
Looks for flaws in arguments and raises
counterarguments and possible objections to ideas presented
by group members. This can be a useful role in a peer-editing
group, especially when students are reluctant to criticize
each others work. It is much less threatening to give
and to receive important feedback when the constructive critique
is part of a role. It also helps to make this role an optional
one. The person whose work is being reviewed may ask for a
"devils advocate" to provide some useful feedback.
Has no specifically defined task, but
must actively contribute to the group process, make suggestions,
raise questions, offer ideas, etc.
Students may choose their roles when they get
into their groups. It is important for students to change roles each
time so that each group member has a chance to practice different
The teacher plays several roles in this process:
designer, facilitator, and coordinator. It is important to determine
what the students need to learn and to direct group activity towards
The Designer thinks about educational objectives,
the skills students need to develop, or the knowledge they need to
absorb. He or she then selects an appropriate group model or activity
that will engage students while helping them to meet these goals.
A designer may:
- Design projects for the students
- Create questions, problems or tasks for them
to work on
The Coordinator makes sure the groups run
effectively so they can stay on task and achieve their educational
goal. As a coordinator, the teacher may:
- Break students into groups
- Direct traffic, help them find their groups
- Guide them in choosing roles
- Check in with each group to ensure they do
- Pass out report sheets
- Act as a timekeeper, giving the students "time"for
- Check in with each group at the beginning or
end of a step
- Announce when they should be heading into the
The Facilitator/Coach circulates among
groups to help them to stay on task by listening and observing group
process. When appropriate, he or she will intervene to guide the group
as well. As a facilitator, the teacher thinks about educational objectives,
the skills students need to develop, or the knowledge they need to
absorb. A facilitator may:
- Model process when appropriate
- Ask questions
- Review progress
- Suggest next step of task
- Ask them what they think the next step should
- Ask for counter-arguments or alternative ways
of approaching the task
- Remind them of the skills they already have
that they can apply to this task
- Direct the large group presentation of small
Reporting emphasizes students accountability
and lets the teacher know how well the group has understood their
task. Based on this information the teacher can then devise ways to
build on the strengths of the small groups work and provide
effective strategies to address the weaknesses uncovered.
Large Group Presentation: The presenter
gives a summary of the group's ideas or results of their discussions.
If time is short, each group may present one key insight they have
developed. If there is more time, other class members may comment
on each groups presentation, ask clarifying questions, pose
alternate ideas, etc.
If the group is working on a specific problem
or task, the presenter presents their results with perhaps some
information on how they arrived at theses results and why they believe
them to be valid. Class members may then comment and critique the
results. The class may have previously established a criterion to
apply to group results and can use this during the large group discussion.
It is sometimes a good idea to hear one key
point from each group in turn, since a well-prepared group may cover
all of the points the other groups do.
Report Sheet - The Group Discussion Outline:
The recorder of each group keeps a record of the groups
process and results. He or she also notes who participated and which
roles they assumed. The sheet can be designed to emphasize the method
students are practicing, skills etc.
There are certain challenges when it comes to
the role of assessment in group work. Many students can be apprehensive
about this since they are used to being graded on an individual basis.
While research will undoubtedly continue to develop in this area,
there are several approaches to assessment that can be effective.
Learning Labs: One possibility is to
use groups as "learning labs" where skills are practiced
collaboratively but then later assessed individually. Often group
work develops and refines skills that can be evaluated through older
models of assessment such a quizzes, examinations, etc. Students
who have their writing critiqued by a peer-editing group must take
those comments, revise their work and submit it for an individual
grade. Students who work in a Math study group would still take
If the teacher assigns points or grades for
class participation, group work can be part of that grade. The report
forms may provide a record of student participation.
Group Projects: If the group is working
on a project such as a report or presentation, Drs. David Johnson
and Roger Johnson recommend assigning specific segments of the task
to individual group members. That way a student would receive both
an individual and a group grade.
Establishing Consensual Criteria: Discussing
criteria with the class and setting standards consensually can also
help to alleviate student concerns, establish a tone of fairness,
and help students to internalize appropriate standards for their
work. Establishing consensual criteria does not mean that the teacher
accepts frivolous notions or lowers his or her expectations in anyway.
Rather, the teacher as facilitator, asks students
to determine what makes a good thesis statement, data base design
or oral report. He or she may provide examples of previous student
work for the class to analyze.
It is best to begin with extreme examples such
as an excellent piece of work and an extremely poor one. Once criteria
is established from those two, then the teacher can bring in middle
range ones to help the class define the full range of possible grades.