Groupwork: Learning together & the power of collaboration

Talks like this one from Charles Leadbeater are really useful. They can re-focus our thinking on how we can deliberately foster the skills required in effective group work. In this talk, the importance of developing collaborative-working skills in readiness for the future is very well argued. I would add here that for learners to succeed right NOW, they need to be effective group worker right NOW. Ultimately, if we are to fully utilise the social dimension of humanity, it is far too important to be left to chance. It, just like our other capacities, needs to be mindfully practised and explicitly developed. Our classrooms and school communities could be the hot-houses for just such collaboration. 

I’ve been doing some work on what we mean by ‘group work’ and seeing what we can learn from collaborative learning dynamics.

When introducing group work, I always involve the learners in the assessment process:

The first question I ask students to consider is…

“What makes a quality team member?” In doing this, I ask them to identify what they would like to see, hear and feel when they are being or working with a quality team member. In this way, they can start to formulate their own quality standards for the challenges they are about to face. This becomes their success criteria for the whole learning process. It also generates a student-led plenary discussion both during and after the challenge. This in turn, encourages the students to reflect on the product of their learning IN LIGHT OF THE PROCESS.

The way in which we design learning needs to be as carefully planned as every other aspect of the lesson. So whenever I’m deciding what groups they will work in, I have these as a quick check list:

What is the purpose of the activity – will this group structure and combination of learners enable them to achieve the learning aims?

What are the pre-existing skills, knowledge and understanding in the group; are these well matched/ balanced within the group?

What roles might the group members adopt to ensure that skills and tasks are well matched? (facilitator; team rep; resources manager; time keeper; scribe etc)

What is the social age of the learners; how can we help learners both speak AND listen to each other?

What is the cognitive age of the learners; are they all at the same level of competency – do they need to be for this task?

What is the emotional age of the learners; how will the group members cope when they struggle or face disappointment?

How will I interact with learners; my language needs to praise effort alongside achievement – post-it notes work really well for this, rather than direct interventions that disrupt the group dynamic.

In what ways will I make the skills and competencies I want the students to develop explicit to them throughout the lesson?

If you have any thoughts on this or reflections on how you organise group work, please leave a comment.


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