Group Work in Lessons: Bright Spots

Group work is a somewhat debateable topic in the education world, teachers are understandably wary of the pitfalls that group work can produce. The EEF’s guide on metacognition and self-regulated learning suggests that pupil-to-pupil talk can help to build knowledge and understanding of cognitive and metacognitive strategies. Thus suggesting that group work, if used effectively, can have positive outcomes in terms of social and academic progress.

For any teacher who is looking to implement or improve group work in their lessons, Slavin’s paper Co-operative Learning: What Makes Group Work is essential reading.

Fran Haynes has summarised the article here.  Fran offers 3 insightful tips into best practice of group work in the classroom.

Ideas for Practice

  1. When setting up group work spend time considering the aims. If it to improve student learning, then a structured team learning approach is most likely to be the best way forward. This would still require considerable input from the teacher in the through direct instruction, explicit modelling and feedback.
  2. If the aim is to improve all students’ learning then think carefully about how you will create individual accountability. Slavin seems to highlight individual quizzing or assessment, with the scores accumulated for the group, as particularly beneficial for the learning of all students.
  3. Support colleagues in reflecting on and discussing how they set up group tasks. This may help to generate some purposeful activities that can be shared and developed and avoid group work lessons where, for some students, very little learning occurs.

This blog aims to show some effective ways group work has been used at Durrington High School recently.

Dave Hall had his year 10 drama students working in groups on a piece relating to a traumatic incident and the aftermath of the event. The students were well prepared in the background of the event; they had previously completed work on the emotional, physical and psychological state of those involved.   As the goal was to improve script development, dialogue and production skills, Dave decided the structured team learning approach was most advantageous. Students began discussing ideas and then collectively created roles and responsibilities for the success for the piece. Dave was able to establish individual accountability through his assessment criteria and feedback (individual performance skills from the previous unit) which carefully ensured each student was to be assessed individually in their overall performance covering characterisation and staging. This approach ensured the group work was purposeful as all students needed to work together to develop their group performance alongside their own individual progress from the previous topic.

Cyrus Dean had his year 7 music students working on playing a piece of music on a keyboard after correctly reading the music and labelling the piece in their booklets. Cyrus checked understanding and then students worked in groups to play the music on the keyboards. Each student was assessed individually and was accountable for their own progress; however peer feedback was clearly embedded into the culture of the group and dynamic of the classroom. This combination of structured learning and informal group learning enabled students to work collaboratively and use specific terminology (pre-prepared from Cyrus) to aid each member of the group’s feedback and subsequently quality of the work produced.

Elizabeth Wolstenholme in PE was focusing on gameplay, that is the understanding of positioning and attributes required to be successful in certain positions in football with her year 7 class. All students had time whilst playing a game to try all of the positions. Elizabeth allowed the students discussion time to highlight the key qualities required for each position in their teams. Students then had to organise their team to suit the individual attributes of each player in line with the requirements for each position. This structured team learning was used well as students had to be aware of not only what their role was in order to be successful but also what other team member’s main roles were too. Elizabeth did this through targeted elaborative questioning, and this ensured students were accountable for their own understanding of not only the positions but also why certain players were suited to certain positions and what attributes are required to be successful within those roles.

Overall, what was evident from this work across Durrington High School was that the main elements that underpin the success of group work are:

  1. Classroom culture and a cohesive group dynamic where students regularly work collaboratively and feedback and team work are pillars of the culture.
  2. Careful planning and strong subject knowledge – knowing the different elements of a task and how these have to come together to produce the final product, be it a sports game, performance or even a piece of writing. In effective group work where learning takes place, individual students are not responsible for just one element but for all of them.
  3. Individual accountability – Simply put, this is achieved through individual assessment at the end of the task coupled with the individual outcomes affecting the final assessment of the whole group.

 

James Crane

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