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Rights and Responsibilities for Group Members

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.

Group Empowerment

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

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.