Saturday, November 7, 2015

Group work is a Necessity for Students

       Our school district recently had an essay contest in which students were asked to describe their Ideal Math Class.  Submissions came in from students in grades 4 to 12.  Nearly every student said that they wanted to work in groups for at least a portion of the class time.  Students want to have the opportunity to ask each other questions and to share their ideas with a small group of peers.

       In fact, the benefits of group work in the classroom are well known.  The Center for Innovation in the Research and Teaching has compiled the following list of benefits of group work:

  • Students able to take ownership of the subject matter.
  • Students develop communication and teamwork skills.
  • Content is reinforced as students work together and "teach" each other.  This improves understanding through additional discussion and explanation.
  • Content may be broken down into parts.  This allows students to tackle larger and more complex problems and assignments than they would be able to do individually.
  • Students can work together to pool their expertise, knowledge and skills.
  • Students hold one another responsible and accountable.
  • Teaches students to plan more effectively and manage their time.
  • Instructors benefit by seeing students approach problems in novel and unique ways. This can improve the instructor's perspective and make their future teaching more effective.

  • Instructors are able to have the content reinforced by giving the students ways to apply what they have learned in a collaborative setting.

       As teachers, we want students to have different learning experiences.  We know that all students do not learn best by merely listening to the teacher and taking notes.  We want students to learn how to learn and one way to do that is to give them these opportunities in the controlled atmosphere of the classroom.

       "Group work" is a general term that can be implemented in many ways in the classroom.  The Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence has suggested many ways for teachers to incorporate group work into their lessons.  Marzano lists cooperative learning as one of his Nine High Yield Instructional Strategies.  

       Group work breaks the mold of the traditional teaching model that keeps the teacher in the front of the room all the time and the students in neat rows of desks and (usually) not talking very much.  Group work requires planning and preparation on the teacher's part.  It also requires teachers to allow some productive, learning noise to be part of their typical class on a regular basis.

       As we prepare our students for the world of work, we need to give them opportunities to work and to learn with their peers as this will (very likely) be a part of their own professional experiences as adults.

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