Sunday, March 28, 2010

Group Work & Collaboration

Teaching grades 5 & 6 most of my group work experiences have been centered around hands on type learning experiences. The types of assignments I give to my class have focused on manipulating different types of materials in building or achieving a specific learning outcome. I find myself using group projects in social studies or science when I want the students to experience specific materials or to research and present specific topics to spread out and share their findings. There are times where I’ve created centers of information and the group will split up and become specialists on their topic and then they are to come back and report on their information they found with the rest of the group members.
I tend to have my students produce some type of product (PowerPoint presentation, poster, display “model”, maybe even a skit). With these projects the goal is to have the students learn to work together, share responsibilities, produce a product for others to see and learn from, as well as become familiar with the specific material.
I have encountered all kinds of benefits and struggles in my experience with group work. Students usually enjoy working together on projects and it helps them to be motivated and engaged with what they are learning. Weaker students benefit from working with the team, although sometimes a strong student will bulldoze the group and the contributions and ideas of others. Classroom management can be a challenge, especially with a class size of 27 students. You are always encountering difficulties with students staying on task, group dynamics and struggles, as well as using work space effectively in the room if you need them to share materials or spread things out. There will always be students who don’t do anything and students who will want to do too much.
I have learned to deal with the challenges of group work and one of the best strategies I’ve come across would be by assigning each student a role. If you are able to assign each person a different role (most of the time I’ll let the students decide what role they want to be) you will find that there is less arguments, more students are on task and they product is usually better. Here are some of the roles I’ve used when planning group work assignments:

Task Master – this person is in charge of keeping the group on task. They keep track of time and the requirements of the assignment. They have been given the right to mention to the group (in a polite way) when they are getting off topic or are becoming non-productive.

Scrounger – this person is in charge of gathering the materials and resources that are needed for the group. This role helps to reduce the amount of people wandering around in the classroom and allows for better use of classroom space. If you have a general bin of materials for the entire class, it is only the scroungers that are allowed to access the bin and bring things back to their group.

Discussion Director – Many times I’ll assign groups to discuss questions. This person is in charge of how the group communicates. They will make sure that everyone has a turn speaking (including themselves) and they make sure that everyone has an opportunity to share their opinion. This role really helps you as a teacher because you can’t be at each group all at the same time. Most of the groups work quite well with a discussion director and that will allow you to be free to move to the groups that may be having difficulty in this area.

Help Seeker – This person is in charge of communicating the groups’ questions and/or difficulties to the teacher. They are the only ones able to come to you with questions and again this helps with effectively using the classrooms space. It also frees you up because you don’t have 20 kids coming at you at once.

Presenter – This person is in charge of presenting and communicating the results of their groups findings to the class.

There are many more jobs that can be created, depending on the type of project the group is working on. The names can be changed or modified to be interesting and appropriate for the role they are playing.

Group work has been a fun part of teaching and after learning and reading about the possibilities web 2.0 tools have to offer I’m getting very excited about adding more variety and opportunities for my students to work together and build on their collaboration skills. Just today I have been learning more about Wiki’s and I have gone through and set up a Wiki space for my students using I’m only in the testing phase and I’m already seeing a project that I’ll develop for my next science unit of study. I’m using the “free” version of the site and I have added some pages and infrastructure for my students to research and report on different information they will need to learn about wetland ecosystems. I like that pbworks wikis have the ability to be private or public. You can be in complete control of the users and setting up users for my students was a breeze. I particularly liked the ability to create student users so an email address was not required for each of my students. This works well for me as many of my students do not have permission from their parents to have email accounts yet. When I set up the accounts it automatically generated a page with passwords all divided up so I can just cut and hand out the log in information for my students. I think both my students and I will enjoy this wiki assignment.

In reading of some of my stimulus material I came across an article which talked about teacher collaboration. Teacher collaboration is important and it is during times like these (writing and reporting on blog posts) that I feel that I am growing professionally. I love the ease of sharing ideas this way and I love the ideas I’m getting from others as well as the new ideas that come from this entire process. In order for true teacher collaboration to work and continue to work there still needs to be some incentive. Getting a grade and credits has provided incentive for this class. What can be done to help provide incentive for us teachers to continue to provide ideas and collaboration?

In our Canadian conference there is a website where teachers can contribute their ideas online in two different areas, “Teachers-Talk” and “Technology”. If we submit our ideas in an article form we are given some financial reward. I have read and gained many benefits from this website and I have had many opportunities to be a contributor as well. But the only challenge I see with this forum being so broad, is that we don’t have the exchange of specific teaching ideas for the curricular areas that we need to teach. I think that each of our conferences should have areas were we can collaborate, but not only that; we need more specific areas of collaboration.
I think that all the teachers in our conference that are teaching similar grades or subjects could and should have the opportunity to collaborate and just simply share ideas. The problem with setting something like this up is that very few would participate unless we are given the proper opportunity to do this. Yes, a small financial benefit would help provide incentive but I don’t think it would be the right solution. It takes time, to contribute, it takes time to read and see what others are doing, and time is not something teachers have an abundance of.
Providing time would be the best situation for teacher collaboration. I don’t know in what form this time could come in, but if we were given the time to share ideas, we would all benefit. Maybe there could be a teacher collaboration day set up to occur once a month in our school calendar where we would not have to teach. On this teacher collaboration day we could begin our contributions about what it is I’ve been doing in my classroom that I find to be really working. Others that are teaching similar grade levels at different schools can also add their contributions. Discussions and reflections could continue throughout the month of course, but this way we are given specific “time” to begin this collaboration. This type of collaboration would actually cut down on professional development costs for our conference as we are then not paying for transportation costs, room and board costs, or even food costs to bring all of the teachers in our conference together.
Collaboration and group work benefit from the different web 2.0 tools and it is exciting to be a part of education with these tools being readily available to us.

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