Planning group assignments

Yes, we all know that group assignments are important for students (everyone works in teams in the workplace) but putting a group lesson together is time consuming for the instructor and disheartening for many students. How can it be done?

I attended an Achieving the Dream panel from Patrick Henry College in Virginia and got these hints on setting up a group lesson/project.

First of all, the assignment should be a high stakes assignment, something that is important to the content and class. A casual “Oh, you should do this in groups,” never works very well.

Having said that, the assignment should be planned around the group, not the group around the assignment. For example, if I assigned a writing in the workplace assignment for a mixed group of students, I might place the nursing students in one group to work on nursing reports and the auto technicians in another. The groups need to be intentional and directed by the instructor. It should not be according to friends in the class or who sits together.

The rubric and grading system needs to be built around the group lesson. Points should be given for group work and individual work. One idea was having a three-tiered grade for the assignment: an instructor grade, a mutually-agreed on group grade, and self-grading. Reflecting on group work as well as the assignment should be part of the grade.

Students should be given time in class to meet and work as groups. Many of our students have a busy schedule which prevents them from meeting outside of class. Giving class time to the project shows how important it is.

Finally, there should be a “divorce” provision to the assignment if a group just does not get along. How can there be an amicable separation without bringing in the associate dean as a mediator.

The key to all of this is the upfront planning and then review of the project at the end of the semester. If you survey your students at the end of the project, you might get great ideas for the next time you try cooperative learning.

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