Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Getting Into Groups

Group work has not always worked for our class. The students would take their time finding a group. When they found their group, they would waste time trying to figure out who would do what. It never failed that some groups would get off task. They would talk about what they did the weekend before or what they were going to do the upcoming weekend, a project or a test in their next class, or who broke up with who. I spent more time trying to keep groups on task than facilitating and guiding the lesson. What did I do to fix this? I started spending a few days at the beginning of the year teaching them and practicing the expectations of getting into groups. 

Practice Timing
Starting from their seat, ask your students to form a group of 3 for example. "Ready, set, go!" Time how long it takes them to do so. I like to practice forming different group sizes. I have them form groups of 2 and even 4. We also practice forming groups different ways. You can let them form a group based on their favorite color, give them a number and let them find their match, or tell them a song to hum and to find the person(s) that are humming the same song (one of my favorites). Practice different ways to get into the group and have them try to beat their previous time. Even better, tell them a time that another class did using the same method, and have them compete to beat it. Teach them how to form their group quickly. 

Practice Assigning Them
Although I let my students sometimes choose who they work with, the best groups are those that the teacher assigns. You put them in their groups. Pick a source of data and use it. One of my favorite tools is to give them a few questions to answer about the topic we are covering. That's their bell work. You can quickly check it as a class and group them according to how they did. Group them based on abilities if you need to focus on a group of students that are struggling. Or you can group them with mixed abilities if you need help teaching a concept. Let the stronger kids help those that are weaker. To practice this, I like to give the students a quiz about me. We swap papers and quickly grade it as a class. They have fun trying to guess the answers (especially how old I am). Next, we get into groups based on how many questions the student answered correctly. The group task is usually something simple so that everybody gets a job. Maybe ask them to pick and object in the room and to design a way to make it better. Have the group choose a leader, a writer, and someone to share. Everyone gets a role and to play a part in the group that you assigned. 

Practice Working In Groups
I teach high school. So when these students come to me, they've already had many different teachers. Everybody is different (that's why we differentiate, right?), so it's likely that some of the teachers your students had before, had different expectations of group work. We must teach our students what we expect and practice these expectations over and over. Practice makes perfect. My favorite practice assignment is a creative designing and engineering one. Each group is given stuff (like construction paper, cups, popsicle sticks, googly eyes, cotton swabs, fuzzy sticks, paper plates, etc.), asked to build something, and to work together while doing so. It's amazing what these kids come up with. Here's just a few creations from this year. 

Don the Drummer

Cookie Bug

Sam the Spotted Dog

Make it a competition to build the best and you will be amazed at how well (even your students that struggle) they will work together. It's perfect for letting them practice how you want them to work. 

Practice Giving Them A Grade
When we give a grade for an assignment done while in a group, participation is always a factor for determining it. If Susie, Bob, and John work in a group for an assignment, but John does the work (while Susie brushes her hair and Bob takes a nap), Susie and Bob don't deserve the same grade as John. To end our group work practice at the beginning of the year, I like to give the students a task to complete as a group and give them a grade based on how they do. Most of the time, their task is to put together a puzzle without talking. "Ready, set, go", and the students get into their assigned group quickly (just like we practiced). They work  as a group to put the puzzle together. We observe them and give them a grade based on how well they do, taking points off each time they don't follow one of the group work procedures or directions. Let them get used to getting a grade for their participation. 

Using time at the beginning of the year to show your students the expectations of group work can make things run much more smoothly for you the rest of the year. Teach your students the appropriate way to work together. If you do so, you will enjoy group work and they will too. 

Hope this helps and hope you have a wonderful school year. Happy grouping!