Monday, August 1, 2016

Designing Groupwork

In the spring of 2016, our PD Book Club read Designing Groupwork: Strategies for the Heterogeneous Classroom, 3rd edition. This post seeks to summarize/paraphrase some of the major points that we discussed.

  • The point of the groupwork should be to facilitate conceptual thinking.
  • A groupworthy task is one that
    • has students struggle. A primary goal is to design groupwork that leads students to discover concepts.
    • affords students the opportunity to use the language to build knowledge.
    • requires/facilitates interaction among all group members (currently, many group projects are tasks that could be done individually). Students need to build listening and speaking skills in small groups to facilitate using language as a learning tool. (NGSS: "students need to be able to examine, review, and evaluate their own knowledge as well as critique those of others" (15)).
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  • The group has the necessary resources to complete the assignment successfully:
    • cognitive skills (such as working together vs. side-by-side)
    • linguistic skills (and linguistic scaffolds)
    • relevant information (hello information literacy!)
    • and clear instructions.
  • Conceptual vs. algorithmic tasks:
    • conceptual: work that requires students to verbally share their understanding of concepts (the comprehension of the concept, and expressing that comprehension, is the key element of of the task--not necessarily the the end product alone).
      • "Putting concepts into words in the context of explaining to a peer is particularly helpful for concept attainment (Durling & Shick, 1976). 11
    • algorithmic: tasks that could be completed individually, but having students do it in groups instead (so, students divide the task and complete their individual parts--no real interaction required).
  • Explicit instruction/practice in how groups learn together:
    1. new behaviors labeled and discussed (helpful/unhelpful behaviors)
    2. students learn to recognize when new behaviors occur.
    3. students are able to use labels and discuss behavior in an objective way.
    4. students have a chance to practice new behaviors (that are useful/helpful to the goal of the group).
    5. new behaviors (that are useful/helpful to the goal of the group) are reinforced when they occur.
  • Form groups heterogeneously: multiple ability levels/types within groups.
    • This is important to help students build skills of cooperation (skills many adults lack).
  • Preventing dominance: see page 54 of the text.
  • Tasks should not be too complex. Learning from group activities comes from the interaction/discussion that the group undertakes. If students are confused by a difficult task, this will detract from learning.
  • Avoid "collaborative seat work".
  • Equal exchange model: "...strive to create a situation that encourages as much talk among the members of the group as possible" (65). 
  • Evaluate for individual and group accountability.
Designing Groupwork:
  • closed: well defined task to arrive at a predictable or predetermined answer
  • open: "...provides opportunities for students to access the instructions and the information required to engage in the task, facilitate equal status participation, and allow students to demonstrate the multiple intellectual abilities and the different academic and social skills they use to complete the task successfully" (68).
  • Let students discover the concept: "Remember that an orientation is only that; it's best not to preteach the content of the group task. Students need to explore the questions or conduct the inquiry you had planned in the first place" (71).
  • Groupworthy Tasks (page 85):
    • open ended, productively uncertain, require complex problem solving
    • provide opportunities for students to use miltiple intellectual abilities to access the task and to demonstrate intellectual competence
    • address discipline-based, intellectually important content
    • require positive interdependence and invidual accountiability
    • include clear criteria for the evaluation of the group's product and of the individual
  • Sample:
  • Sample: Devine's play project.
  • With instructions, don't provide too much detail; that numbs students intellectual curiosity. Instead "...pose questions for students that will stimulate them to discuss, to experiment, to discover, to use trial and error, and to develop solutions for themselves" (95).

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