students collaborating on project February 1

Making the Most of ‘Reporting Out’ after Group Work

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Have you seen the following scenario take place? Students are engaged in some form of group work in class; think/pair/share, working through an assignment, or simply brainstorming ideas in small groups. The students may start out slowly, but soon they are actively engaged, everyone is sharing their ideas and the class is filled with energy.


teaching face to face January 4

First Impressions: Activities for the First Day of Class

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The old expression that you never have a second chance to make a first impression is certainly true in the classroom. Early in my career, I tried several first-day-of-class strategies, ranging from briefly introducing the course and dismissing students early to spending the entire time reviewing policies and procedures, but I began to feel that I was missing an important opportunity. Students are never more attentive than they are on the first day of class, when they’re eager to determine what kind of professor they’re dealing with, and although it is tempting to delay the real work of teaching and learning until the class list has stabilized, it can be difficult to change even the subtle norms that are established during this initial class. Several years ago, I tried a new approach, and I’ve been using it with great success ever since.


Students working September 25, 2015

Getting Horses to Drink: Three Ways to Promote Student Ownership of Reading Assignments

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There’s no arguing with Ryan’s (2009) observation that “coming to class prepared and with some background knowledge transforms students from passive to active learners” (para. 3). But how to get our students to this state of “transformation readiness” is an age-old issue challenging most instructors throughout their careers. I’m sure the struggle also extends to my own students, who are aspiring or practicing language-teaching professionals juggling multiple personal, academic, and professional demands. Research shows that reasons for not completing reading assignments also include factors such as reading comprehension, low student self-confidence, and lack of interest in the topic (e.g., Lei, Bartlett, Gorney, & Herschbach, 2010).


By: Claire Howell Major, PhD Add Comment Enter the term “group work” into a Google search, and you’ll find yourself bombarded with dozens of hits clustered around definitions of group work, benefits of group work, and educational theories underpinning group work. If you dig a little deeper into the search results, however, you’ll find that not all of the pages displayed under the moniker of “group work” describe the same thing. Instead, dozens of varieties of group learning appear. They all share the common feature of having students work together, but they have different philosophies, features, and approaches to the group task. Does it matter what we call it? Maryellen Weimer asked this important question in her 2014 Teaching Professor article of the same title, with the implicit idea that one approach might be better suited for a given task than another. She believes that the answer to the question is yes. And she’s right. As the adage goes, it is important to choose the right tool for the job at hand. A hammer is not the best tool for drilling a hole, and a drill is not the best tool for driving a nail. Both are good tools, when used for the appropriate job. While there are several different forms of group work, there are a few that are more often used than others and have a body of research that supports their effectiveness. So it is with group work. If you don’t choose the best possible approach, then you will be less likely to accomplish the goals and objectives of the assignment. While there are several different forms of group work, there are a few that are more often used than others and have a body of research that supports their effectiveness. Three of these are cooperative learning, collaborative learning, and reciprocal peer teaching. Cooperative learning: In this form of group learning, students work together in a small group so that everyone participates on a collective task that has been clearly assigned (Cohen, 1994, p. 3). A classic example of this approach is Think-Pair-Share (Barkley et al, 2014), in which the teacher assigns a question and then students think for a minute independently, form a pair to discuss their answers, and share their answers with a larger group. The goal is that all students achieve similar outcomes. Each student considers the same teacher-assigned question, and they all work on performing the same tasks: thinking, pairing, and sharing. Collaborative learning: In this form of group learning, students and faculty work together to create knowledge. The process should enrich and enlarge them (Matthews, 1996, p. 101). An example of this form of group work is a collaborative paper (Barkley et al, 2014). In a collaborative group, students work together to create a product that is greater than any individual might achieve alone. They do not all necessarily do the same task, however, but rather may divide the work among themselves according to their interests and skills. The goal is not for the same learning to occur, but rather that meaningful learning occurs. Reciprocal peer teaching: In this form of group learning, one student teaches others, who then reciprocate in kind (Major et al, 2015). Arguably, this approach is a variation of either cooperative learning or collaborative learning, depending on the task. An example that leans more toward cooperative learning is the jigsaw, in which base groups study together to become experts (Barkley et al, 2014). The base groups then split, and new groups are formed with a member of each base group serving as an expert in a particular area. An example that leans more toward collaborative learning is microteaching, in which individual students take turns teaching the full class (Major et al, 2015). These three approaches are all tried-and-true group-learning varieties. They all have been shown to benefit students on a number of outcomes, from the acquisition of content knowledge to the development of higher-order thinking skills (Davidson & Major, 2015). How is it possible, then, to choose the right pedagogical tool for the learning task? Pedagogical considerations: In choosing any approach to group learning, it is essential to start with the learning goal. What should students be able to do after the completion of the activity? If the goal is for them all to gain the same information, cooperative learning may be the best approach. If the goal is for them to create new knowledge, then collaborative learning may be the best approach. If it is to share knowledge, reciprocal peer teaching may be a good approach. Learner considerations: When making any pedagogical consideration, it is essential to consider the students. Their level of expertise is important, for example, and if they are new to a subject and need foundational knowledge, then cooperative learning may be the best approach. If they are advanced students, then collaborative learning or reciprocal peer teaching may be more engaging for them. Contextual considerations: While contextual considerations are not always the most glamorous, they certainly play a part in our ability to carry out group work. For example, if the class is a large one, a short collaborative activity such as a Think-Pair-Share may simply be more manageable than a long-term collaborative activity; likewise, reciprocal microteaching may be a great approach in an online class but would not be as feasible in a large lecture scenario. A collaborative paper might be a great way to introduce graduate seminar students who work as research assistants at a flagship university to the process of co-authoring, but the same approach might not work as well for first-year students at a community college. The intent here is not to prescribe a specific approach based on a checklist of considerations. Rather, it is to say that, as teachers, we need to know what the instructional options are and to take into account the goals, the learners, and the learning context when making pedagogical decisions. Ultimately, we are in the best place to know what will work best in our unique situations, and it is thus our responsibility to choose well when deciding to use group work in the college classroom. References: Barkley, E.F., Major, C.H., & Cross, K.P. (2014). Collaborative learning techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Cohen, E. G. (1994). Restructuring the classroom: Conditions for productive small groups. Review of Educational Research, 64(1), 1-35. Matthews, R.S. (1996), Collaborative Learning: creating knowledge with students, in Menges, M., Weimer, M. and Associates. Teaching on solid ground, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Major, C.H., Harris, M.S., and Zakrajsek. (2015). 101 Intentionally Designed Educational Activities to put students on the path to success. London, Routledge. Weimer, M. (2014). Does it matter what we call it. The Teaching Professor, 28(3), 4. Claire Howell Major is a professor of higher education at the University of Alabama. You can follow her on Twitter @ClaireHMajor. Add Comment Posted in Effective Teaching Strategies Tagged with assignment strategies, collaborative learning, cooperative learning, group work, group work strategies Edit Login Follow the discussion Comments There are no comments posted yet. Be the first one! Post a new comment Enter text right here! Comment as a Guest, or login: Login to IntenseDebate Login to WordPress.com Login to Twitter Name Email Displayed next to your comments. Not displayed publicly. Submit Comment Subscribe to Sign up for our FREE Newsletter! You have our promise not to sell or share your email address — ever! State authorization TOPICS: Academic Leadership Asynchronous Learning and Trends Blended and Flipped Learning Curriculum Development Distance Learning Administration EdTech News and Trends Educational Assessment Effective Classroom Management Effective Teaching Strategies Faculty Development Faculty Evaluation Instructional Design Learning Styles Online Education Philosophy of Teaching Teaching and Learning Teaching Careers Teaching Professor Blog Teaching with Technology Online Classroom newsletter You might also like: Why Change Our Approach to Teaching? Campus Safety Strategies for Community Colleges Campus Safety Strategies for Community Colleges What Kind of Feedback Helps Students Who Are Doing Poorly? Good Writing Skills Matter in Every Course, Not Just English Composition Academic Affairs and Student Affairs: Bridging the Gap The Power of a Good Question . September 21, 2015

Choosing the Best Approach for Small Group Work

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Enter the term “group work” into a Google search, and you’ll find yourself bombarded with dozens of hits clustered around definitions of group work, benefits of group work, and educational theories underpinning group work. If you dig a little deeper into the search results, however, you’ll find that not all of the pages displayed under the moniker of “group work” describe the same thing. Instead, dozens of varieties of group learning appear. They all share the common feature of having students work together, but they have different philosophies, features, and approaches to the group task.


student at library August 3, 2015

Using a Discourse-Community-Knowledge Framework to Design Writing Assignments

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The educational benefits of writing are undeniable. Challenging students to write about our disciplines for diverse purposes and audiences deepens learning and promotes critical thinking. And so we put a great deal of effort into creating writing assignments that do not merely ask students to report back to us the content we have “delivered,” but instead require them to explore course content and address a target audience that has specific needs.


Young professor on first day of class July 20, 2015

First Day of Class Activity: The Interest Inventory

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The interest inventory is a simple tool to help you acquaint yourself with your students. Unlike many icebreakers, the interest inventory is a paper-based activity and students do not have to give answers aloud in front of class. The interest inventory, therefore, helps you get to know your students privately and allows you to ask different questions than you would during oral introductions.


reading textbook June 26, 2015

Getting Students to Do the Reading

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Getting students to do their assigned reading is a struggle. Most teachers don’t need anyone to tell them what the research pretty consistently reports. On any given day, only 20 to 30 percent of the students arrive at class having done the reading. Faculty are using a variety of approaches to up that percentage: quizzes (announced, unannounced, online), assignments that require some sort of written response to the reading, reading journals, a variety of optional reading support materials, and calling on students to answer questions about the reading. Which of these approaches work best?


Student paying attention May 4, 2015

Why Can’t Students Just Pay Attention?

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We have all had the experience of having students sitting in our classes, looking directly at us, and knowing, just knowing, that they are not paying the least bit of attention to what we are talking about or what the topic of the day is. In fact, if we don’t see this in our classes (and I believe we all do…it’s just that some of us don’t wish to admit it), all an instructor has to do is review assignments, quizzes, or exams to find evidence that students don’t understand key concepts that were highlighted as “really important” or “critical” to understanding the material.


book closeup March 30, 2015

Using Student-Generated Reading Questions to Uncover Knowledge Gaps

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Editor’s note: The following is an excerpt from Student-Generated Reading Questions: Diagnosing Student Thinking with Diverse Formative Assessments, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology Education, 42 (1), 29-38. The Teaching Professor Blog recently named it to its list of top pedagogical articles.

As instructors, we make a myriad of assumptions about the knowledge students bring to our courses. These assumptions influence how we plan for courses, what information we decide to cover, and how we engage our students. Often there is a mismatch between our expectations about what students know and how students actually think about a topic that is not uncovered until too late, after we examine student performance on quizzes and exams. Narrowing this gap requires the use of well-crafted formative assessments that facilitate diagnosing student learning throughout the teaching process.


small group of students with professor March 2, 2015

Three Critical Conversations Started and Sustained by Flipped Learning

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The flipped learning model of instruction has begun to make the transition from an educational buzzword to a normative practice among many university instructors, and with good reason. Flipped learning provides many benefits for both faculty and students. However, instructors who use flipped learning soon find out that a significant amount of work is sometimes necessary to win students over to this way of conducting class. Even when the benefits of flipped learning are made clear to students, some of them will still resist. And to be fair, many instructors fail to listen to what students are really saying.