I often observe lessons where group work is used. Whilst the teaching is often outstanding, the learning is often lagging behind because not all students take an active role in the group work. As a result I have been working with my faculty in strategies to ensure all students are participating in group activities.
The first area is to engineer group dimensions and structure. Groups of 3-4 seem to work better than larger groups, in which it is easy for some students to take a ‘back seat’. Whether the teacher or students chooses the groups is a personal preference. I operate a ‘home and away’ set-up, where my home groups are decided by me. These groups are engineered on ability so I use assessment data to divide the class into 4 bands. Each group then has a student from each band. I also consider friendships and behaviour. The students are now used to working in these groups and are able to support one another. If I want different groups e.g. friendship or ability then they work in ‘away’ groups and are able to organise themselves quickly. Having strategies such as this avoids time-wasting setting up groups at the start of the lesson.
Sometimes I begin lessons with ‘home groups’ but then they break off into ‘away groups’ depending on the activity. For example in a recent lesson on Earthquake Preparedness, each group had to develop a plan for Japan to cope with Earthquakes. Each group had to produce a design for an Earthquake Proof House, an emergency box, a plan for an Earthquake drill and a leaflet to explain what to do in the event of an Earthquake. They discussed their ideas in their home groups and then assigned one task to each member of the group. This has the advantage of ensuring that all students are involved as they are all responsible for one task. They then worked in ‘away’ groups depending on their tasks – in other words all members of the ‘away’ groups were doing the same task. This is successful as they can then share ideas and it also means that they have to complete the task for their home group and can’t hand it over to a fast worker within the group who has finished their own task. They also get support from students completing the same activity.
I think in any group activity it is important that the activity has a structure so that students can take responsibility for a portion of it. De Bono’s thinking hats are useful in allocating each student in the group with a different coloured hat and asking them to come up with ideas for each hat. It is possible with this strategy to have larger groups of 5-6. I have done this successfully in a GCSE lesson looking at impacts of tourism on Antarctica. Each student took one hat e.g. the ‘white hat’ found out facts and figures about tourism in Antarctica, the ‘red hat’ looked at the positives of tourism and so on. They then held a group discussion using each of the hats and finally compiled a report together.
Another idea to ensure full participation is to have a log sheet for students to complete to show who has done each task in a group activity. This means they have to think about sharing the work out. However you need to watch that it is completed honestly as often students will just write down all names for an easy life! This tends to be more of problem when they are working in friendship groups.
If you are doing group work where students are required to complete a mind map, ask them to add the initials of who contributed to each idea. I explain that I want each student to have their names down at least once. You can then ask the individual students to explain their idea to you or the rest of the class.
All of the above both allow all students to make progress and you demonstrate clear differentiation as it makes learning accessible for all!