I recently revisited something I’ve always considered a great resource. It originally appeared in a 1992 issue of the Teaching Professor and was published then as a Study Group Member’s Bill of Rights. It outlined what individuals had the right to expect when they participated in study groups. Students not only have rights, they also have responsibilities. Those rights and responsibilities are relevant in any group activity used to accomplish educational goals. The version below attempts to capture those larger expectations and duties.
There are lots of ways a document like this can be used, starting with simply distributing it to students prior to their participation in a group activity. During their first meeting, group members could review and discuss the document. They could revise it so that it directly applies to the activity they will complete together. The importance of the document could be underscored by having students sign and submit the document. Or, you might have group members construct their own bill of rights and responsibilities.
Groups need to be empowered to fix problems that emerge as they work together. Peer pressure can motivate behavior change, but the pressure has to be applied. A document like this won’t solve all group interaction problems, but it does make students aware that groups have collective responsibilities just as they have individual responsibilities. A student in a group has the responsibility to participate, but if that student does not, the group has a responsibility to seek that participation. It’s difficult for most students to stay silent if another group member directly asks for their opinion.
Some teachers are reluctant to use group work because some groups work together poorly. And, with lots of content already in the course, the teacher doesn’t have time to teach small group dynamics. But if using groups, teachers should do what they can to help students learn how to work productively with others. A resource often begins the process. It makes students aware that their membership in a group comes with rights and responsibilities. They have been discussed and doing so establishes that the group has the right to deal with any issues that might emerge.
Group Member Bill of Rights and Responsibilities
- You have the right and responsibility to select meeting times and locations that are convenient for all members.
- You have the right to expect feedback from the group on work you complete for the group and you have the responsibility to provide constructive feedback on the work of other group members.
- You have the right to expect group meetings to begin and end promptly and that the group will follow an agenda that outlines the tasks it expects to accomplish during the meeting. You have the responsibility to help the group fulfill these expectations by being to meetings on time and helping the group develop and follow the agenda.
- You have the right to participate in a group that works cooperative and handles disagreements constructively.
- You have the right to ask group members to limit the amount of time devoted to socialization or the discussion of extraneous topics. You have the responsibility not to engage in excessive socialization or to bring up extraneous topics. You have the responsibility to help the group stay on task.
- You have the right to expect that group members to listen to you respectfully and you have the responsibility to listen to all group members respectfully.
- You have the right to contribute to the formation of group goals, the dividing of the work among group members, and the setting of deadlines.
- You have the right to expect all group members to do their fair share of the work, and you have the right to confront group members who are not doing their fair share. You have the responsibility to complete the work assigned to you.
- You have the responsibility to be an active participant in the group process. And you have the right to expect active participation from other group members.
This article was adapted from a study group bill of rights developed by D. G. Longman and published in the Teaching Professor, 1992, 6 (7), 5.
If you believe this piece on group work was valuable, you may be interested in purchasing The Teaching Professor and reading, ‘Designing Small Group Activities: A Resource Guide,’ where Maryellen Weimer delves into the components of effective small-group activities and experiences.
The Teaching Professor also includes Maryellen Weimer’s, For Those Who Teach blog, and additional pieces pertaining to student learning, professional growth, classroom climate, grading and feedback, and teaching techniques.
This article first appeared in Faculty Focus on February 7, 2012. © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.