Teaching approaches: Group work
Collaborative work in small groups is designed to develop ‘higher order’ skills. The key elements are the talking and associated thinking that take place between group members. However, putting pupils in groups is no guarantee that they work as groups (Bennett 1976), so much deliberate work needs to be done to make group work productive.
According to Johnson and Johnson (1999) the cooperative group has five defining elements:
- positive independence – pupils need to feel that their success depends on whether they work together or not (they sink or swim together);
- face-to-face supportive interaction – pupils need to be active in helping one another learn and provide positive feedback;
- individual and group accountability – everyone has to feel that they contribute to achieving the group goals;
- interpersonal and small-group skills – communication, trust, leadership, decision making and conflict resolution;
- group processing – the group reflecting on its performance and functioning and on how to improve. (Adapted from Group Work - Research Summary, section What).
An alternative approach to individual practice is the use of cooperative small-group work during the review and practice part of the lesson. This method has gained in popularity in recent years, and has attracted a lot of research interest in a number of countries, such as the United States (Slavin 1996). In other countries such as the United Kingdom this method is still underused, however. In a recent study in primary schools Muijs and Reynolds (2001) found that less than 10% of lesson time was spent doing group work.
The use of small-group work is posited to have a number of advantages over individual practice. The main benefit of small-group work seems to lie in the co- operative aspects it can help foster. One advantage of this lies in the contribution this method can make to the development of students’ social skills. Working with other students may help them to develop their empathetic abilities, by allowing them to see others’ viewpoints, which can help them to realise that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. Trying to find a solution to a problem in a group also develops skills such as the need to accommodate others’ views.
Students can also provide each other with scaffolding in the same way the teacher can during questioning. The total knowledge available in a group is likely to be larger than that available to individual students, which can enable more powerful problem solving and can therefore allow the teacher to give students more difficult problems than s/he could give to individual students. (Adapted from Group Work - Research Summary, section Why).
3 Wider Benefits
The main elements of collaborative group work identified as crucial by research are:
Giving and receiving help One of the main advantages of cooperative small-group work lies in the help students give one another. Not all kinds of help are necessarily useful, however. Just giving the right answer is not associated with enhanced understanding or achievement. In his review of research, Webb (1991) reports a positive relationship between giving content-related help and achievement. Giving non-content-related help did not seem to improve student achievement, though. Receiving explanations was found to be positive in some studies, and non-significant in others, this presumably because the receiver has to understand the help given and be able to use it. This may well require training the students to give clear help. Receiving non- explanatory help (e.g. being told the answer without being told how to work it out) was negatively or non-significantly related to achievement in the studies reviewed, while being engaged in off-task activities (e.g. socialising) was negative. In a more recent study Nattiv (1994) found that giving and receiving explanations was positively related to achievement, giving and receiving other help was slightly positively related to achievement, while receiving no help after requesting it was negatively related to achievement.
Necessary student social skills Effective small-group work does require a significant amount of preparation, and a number of preconditions have to be met beforehand in order for it to be effective. Firstly, students must be able to cooperate with one another, and to provide each other with help in a constructive way. A number of studies have found that while small-group work is positively related to achievement when group interaction is respectful and inclusive, use of group work is actually negatively related to achievement if group interaction is disrespectful or unequal (Linn and Burbules 1994; Battistich et al. 1993). This is very possible, as many (especially young students and students from highly disadvantaged backgrounds) have been found to lack the social skills necessary to interact positively with peers.
Thus, students often lack sharing skills, which means that they have difficulty sharing time and materials and can try to dominate the group. This problem can be alleviated by teaching sharing skills, for example by using the Round Robin technique in which the teacher asks a question and introduces an idea that has many possible answers. During Round Robin questioning a first student is asked to give an answer, and then passes his turn to the next student. This goes on until all students have had a chance to contribute.
Other students may lack participation skills. This means that they find it difficult to participate in group work because they are shy or uncooperative. This can be alleviated by structuring the task so that these students have to play a particular role in the group or by giving all students ‘time tokens’, worth a specified amount of ‘talk time’. Students have to give up a token to a monitor whenever they have used up their talk time, after which they are not allowed to say anything further. In this way all students get a chance to contribute.
Students may also lack communication skills. This means that they are not able to effectively communicate their ideas to others, obviously making it difficult for them to function in a cooperative group. Communication skills, such as paraphrasing, may need to be explicitly taught to students before small-group work can be used.
Finally, some students may lack listening skills. This can frequently be a problem with younger students who will sit waiting their turn to contribute without listening to other students. This can be counteracted by making students paraphrase what the student who has contributed before them has said before allowing them to contribute.
Organising small-group work For small-group work to be effective, one needs to take a number of elements into account in the structuring of the task. Before commencing the task, the goals of the activity need to be clearly stated and the activity needs to be explained in such a way that no ambiguity can exist about the desired outcomes of the task. The teacher needs to make clear that cooperation between students in the group is desired. According to Slavin (1996) the goals need to be group goals, in order to facilitate cooperation, which need to be accompanied by individual accountability for work done in order to avoid free-rider effects. Giving both group and individual grades can help accomplish this, as can use of a shared manipulative or tool such as a computer.
Avoiding free-rider effects can be aided by structuring the group task in such a way that every group member is assigned a particular task. One way of doing this is by making completion of one part of the task dependent on completion of a previous stage, so students will pressure each other to put the effort in to complete the stage before them. Johnson and Johnson (1994) suggest a number of roles that can be assigned to students in small groups, such as:
- the summariser, who will prepare the group’s presentation to the class and summarise conclusions reached to see if the rest of the group agrees;
- the researcher, who collects background information and looks up any additional information that is needed to complete the task;
- the checker, who checks that the facts that the group will use are indeed correct and will stand up to scrutiny from the teacher or other groups;
- the runner, who tries to find the resources needed to complete the task, such as equipment and dictionaries;
- the observer/troubleshooter, who takes notes and records group processes.
These may be used during the debriefing following the group work;
- the recorder, who writes down the major output of the group, and synthesises the work of the other group members.
After finishing the group task the results need to be presented to the whole class and a debriefing focusing on the process of the group work (the effectiveness of the collaborative effort) should be held. A useful way of starting a debriefing session is by asking students what they thought had gone particularly well or badly during group work (the observers mentioned above should be able to do this).
Research has shown that cooperative groups should be somewhat, but not too, heterogeneous with respect to student ability. Groups composed of high and medium, or medium and low, ability students gave and received more explanations than students in high-medium-low ability groups. Less heterogeneous groupings were especially advantageous for medium-ability students. When students of the same ability are grouped together, it has been found that high-ability students thought it unnecessary to help one another while low-ability students were less able to do so (Webb 1991; Askew and Wiliam 1995). (Adapted from Group Work - Research Summary, section WhatDetail).
4 Practical Considerations
Review all the ideas you have explored relating to group work, some of which are summarised in the table below. Circle in colour any ideas you have never used or considered.
In another colour highlight the ideas you intend to try with your case study class. Of these, prioritise with numbers the idea you think will have most impact in your lessons.
Reflect on your practice after each lesson. When you have successes or difficulties with the case study class, share them with other teachers who may have ideas to help you.
After at least four weeks of putting these ideas into practice, carry out the original questionnaire again – both your own views on pupils’ likely perceptions, plus the pupils’ views themselves.
Putting it into practice
| Grouping – size and composition
I could use …
| Managing groups
|| Stimulus for group talk
|pairs||pair talk||explanation for group talk|
|small group (three or four)||pairs to fours||demonstration for group talk|
|large group (five to seven)||snowball||question and answer for group talk|
|friendship grouping||spokesperson||taking notes using group talk|
|ability grouping||envoys||worksheets and book exercises using group talk|
|groups with similar personalities together||rainbow groups||practical work using group talk|
|groups with different statements||number/letter/colour||misconceptions or false personalities together|
|single-sex groups||random numbering||artefacts, photographs, etc.|
|groups with equal numbers of boys/girls per group||random continuum||open ended questions|
|random selection for grouping||other ideas||group concept or mind maps|
|groups with pupils with same first language||other ideas|| concept cartoons
card sorts or continuum
Whatever you choose to do, remember:
- grouping plans rather than seating plans;
- the choice of seating and grouping is yours;
- express grouping and seating in terms of learning not behaviour;
- change groups regularly;
- ensure pupils know what the purpose and the product of the discussion will be;
- make explicit the reason why they should;
- be considerate to the views of others;
- face each other, and sit as close together as possible;
- use eye contact;
- clear the desks before they talk as a group;
- work within the time targets set;
- don’t loom or lean;
- speak to them at their level or lower;
- encourage non-verbally: eyes, face and gesture;
- withhold your opinion or the ‘correct’ answer for as long as possible;
- ask questions rather than provide answers;
- use others’ answers as prompts for argument. (Adapted from Group Work - Practical Considerations, section Body).
5 Relevant resources
|Assessment||Using Assessment to Raise Achievement in Maths|
Learning goals; self & peer assessment; effecting questioning; marking and case studiesThis resource explores approaches to assessment(ta) in maths, including the sharing of learning objectives(ta), group work(ta), whole class(ta) assessment, questioning(ta) and more. Four case studies serve as useful discussion prompts to share practice(ta). This .doc version of the QCA's 'Using assessment(ta) to Raise Achievement in Maths' allows schools to select parts of the document that are most relevant to them.
|Assessment||Changing KS3 Questions for Engaging Assessment|
A large set of questions grouped by topic, paper, and national curriculum levelTest questions are often seen as uninteresting and useful only to assess pupils summatively. This resource however allows questioning(ta) to be used to support pupils’ revision, creativity and higher order(ta) problem-solving in class. The tasks could be conducted via whole class(ta) discussion(ta) or assessment(ta), perhaps using mini-whiteboards(tool), or in small group work(ta) situations.
|CPD||Group Work - Maintaining Momentum|
Keep going! Maintaining momentum in group work activitiesThis resource discusses some practical classroom management(ta) strategies for maintaining momentum in group work(ta) activities.
|CPD||Group Work - Group Size|
What size group are we in today? Thinking about group sizeThis resource discusses group work(ta) sizes, and the practical benefits and limitations of various group sizes - from individual work to whole class(ta) work.
|CPD||Encouraging Pupils to Ask Effective Questions|
Getting pupils to do the questioningThis resource describes some methods to encourage pupils themselves to engage in effective questioning(ta) - an active learning(ta) approach which may be useful in whole class(ta) or group work(ta) discussion(ta).
|CPD||Choosing and Selecting Groups|
What group am I in? Thinking about choosing and selecting groupsThis resource discusses various options for choosing groupings for group work(ta) activities, and their benefits and limitations.
|Capacity||Smoothie Capacity Challenge|
Investigating capacity and getting wet wet wet...This is a practical session to be used with a whole class in small groups(ta) of 2 or 3 –perhaps with the added supervision of a teaching assistant if the class is excitable or particularly young. There is scope within this activity for the following different methods of learning:
Developing effective techniques for differentiation by task and outcomeThe small group work(ta) nature of this task allows teachers to share ideas, and attempt to conceptualise two different types of differentiation(ta), together. It also encourages teachers to share practice(i)s in differentiation. Teachers are first asked to consider differentiation ‘by task’ by thinking about self-sustaining activities which pupils could manage with little support. They are also asked to consider differentiation by outcome, and ‘hierarchies of achievement’ for particular topics. The practical nature of the task offers a concrete outcome for teachers to take away and use in their practice both day to day, and in curriculum planning(topic). The resource could be used as a prompt to start teachers off, a comparator for teachers working on similar topics, or just as an additional set of possibilities.
|Discussion||The Environment for Group Talk in Science|
"Ask questions rather than provide answers: ‘What’s the strength of his or her point?’ ‘How you could check that out?’ "This resource contains a set of activities and examples to discuss and work through based around maintaining group talk(ta) in whole class(ta) and group work(ta) settings, including setting up Ground Rules, and creating appropriate environments (physical and 'class rule' based) for argumentation(ta) and discussion(ta)
|Force||The Elephant on the Bridge|
She's standing still but there are still forces on her - find out what they are.An interactive way of exploring this activity might be to have the children in small groups(ta) building a rope/string bridge and using a model elephant to stand on it. The children could either observe what happens and then discuss it or could film it and watch in time lapse to see exactly where the movement occurs in the bridge/elephant system. The latter would assist them in considering the direction of the forces acting as they would be able to see the direction of movements very clearly.
|Force||What makes a good paper airplane?|
|Force||Which material makes a good parachute?|
A simple investigation into parachutes and air resistanceThis activity supports a number of learning types:
|Force||Building bridges from a piece of A4 paper|
A bridge too far...This activity supports a number of learning types:
Thinking about 'force' in the national curriculumThis sessions engaged pupils in inquiry(ta) using the scientific method(ta) to explore force. It offers opportunity for teachers to use higher order questioning(ta), whole class assessment(ta) and to engage pupils in effective group work(ta) for investigation.
|Force||What floats and what sinks|
Is getting in the bath a way to lose weight?This activity supports a number of learning types:
|Forces||Force in the early years|
Thinking about the language of forceThis lesson idea highlights the scientific language(ta) around the topic of force, and through group work(ta) and whole class(ta) dialogue(ta) engages pupils in inquiry(ta) and the scientific method(ta) surrounding force.
|Genetics||Human Genome Project: from Sequencing to Sharing Genomic Information|
Discuss and share economic, political and ethical issues.This resource provides guidance on how to use whole class(ta) discussion(ta) and/or small group work(ta) to engage students with the science and the economic, political, ethical(topic), legal and social issues of a scientific project such as the HGP. Its focus is on the scientific method(ta); language(ta) and the nature of scientific inquiry(ta).
|Genetics||How DNA is sequenced: the stages|
The complexity and scale of genome sequencingStudents match diagrams of the stages of DNA sequencing with a list of text descriptions of the process. The lesson can involve students discussing in pairs / group work(ta), followed by a teacher or student-led plenary. Students would share ideas, come to a consensus and check the ‘whole class(ta) response’ with their version. The teacher's questioning(ta) can focus on scientific method(ta) and use of scientific language(ta). The lesson idea provides opportunities for the effective use of assessment(ta).
|Graph||Variation of human characteristics - Visualising Class data|
A big survey of ourselves, measuring hands, feet and moreThe lesson offers the opportunity to explore measurement, relationships between measurement, and ways to visualise and summarise this data. The use of ICT(i) allows the teacher to enter data and for pupils to immediately see the impact this has on the pie chart and frequency tables (which are automatically updated). This also allows the teacher to change the 'range' for the frequency counts, and discuss with pupils the impact of this on the pie chart, and whether this is a good representation - encouraging the use of mathematical language(ta) and scientific method(ta) throughout. In collecting the data pupils have opportunity for some self-directed group work(ta) - to measure various lengths as described below - and the teacher could use whole class(ta) questions(ta) to explore the strategies taken to conduct this investigation(ta).
|Group talk||Organising Group Talk in Science|
The group in which students are expected to work has a huge bearing on their willingness to speak openly. Can we better manage group talk?This resource contains activities and examples relating to group talk(ta) in science lessons in whole class(ta) and group work(ta) settings.
|Group talk||Group Talk & Argument in Science Teaching|
Activities and practical examples to use group talk in science lessonsThis Teacher Education resource covers background information, practical activities, and practical examples for engaging dialogue(ta) in the context of group work(ta) and whole class(ta) work effectively in the classroom, in particular to ensure high quality reasoning(ta). The resource encourages teachers to think about situations and prompts for argumentation(ta) and how these might be used to support the science curriculum.
|Group work||Group Work|
A unit exploring Group Work in contextThis resource is a longer document on group work(ta) from which a number of other more focused resources have been drawn (including Group Work - Choosing and Selecting Groups, Group Work - Group Size, Group Work - Maintaining Momentum).
|Group work||Active Engagement|
|ICT||IT in Primary Science|
A whole book of ideas for using generic ICT tools in scienceThis book is a compendium of lesson ideas with ICT(i) as a key focus for use in inquiry(ta) based learning and the scientific method(ta). It offers opportunities for use of group work(ta) and collaboration(ta) as well as whole class(ta) questioning(ta).
|ICT||Infant and Primary Science Activities with Sensors|
A compendium of investigations with sensors in primary science.This is a compendium of activities to engage pupils in inquiry(ta) based learning in the scientific method(ta), often making effective use of ICT(i) and sensors(tool). The activities involve whole class(ta) questioning(ta) and collaborative(ta) group work(ta).
|ICT||Primary Science Curriculum Activities with Sensors|
A compendium of investigations with sensors in primary scienceThis resource provides a set of activities to engage pupils in inquiry(ta) based learning in the scientific method(ta), often making effective use of ICT(i) and sensors(tool). The activities involve whole class(ta) questioning(ta) and collaborative(ta) group work(ta).
|ICT||Data Logging and Control|
A compendium with numerous ideas for using sensors to teach science.This book provides a set of resources and lesson ideas with ICT(i) as a key focus for use in inquiry(ta) based learning and the scientific method(ta). It offers opportunities for use of group work(ta) and collaboration(ta) as well as whole class(ta) questioning(ta).
|ICT||IT in Secondary Science|
A whole book of ideas for using generic ICT tools in scienceThis book provides resources and lesson ideas with ICT(i) as a key focus for use in inquiry(ta) based learning and the scientific method(ta). It offers opportunities for use of group work(ta) and collaboration(ta) as well as whole class(ta) questioning(ta).
|Literacy||Developing Language in Primary Science|
Language development and the use of appropriate vocabulary(ta) is highlighted as important across the curriculum. Incorporating this consideration into science planning(ta) is important for meeting the target of developing language. The importance of language and talk in science – including through group work(ta), and Whole class(ta) dialogue – is highlighted elsewhere (and in the resource) but includes the ability to explain concepts, understand synthesising ideas (including those from other people and texts), and the need to read and write for different purposes, (including conceptual understanding, data presentation, etc). These are key ideas in communicating the scientific method(ta)
|Living things||Classifying and organising living things using images|
Find different ways to classify living thingsThis lesson offers opportunities to explore ways to classify living things as well as characteristics which might be relevant, and how to address difficulties that may arise when trying to classify things in this way. The activity may be enhanced by the use of ICT(i) software (e.g. Picasa) but could be carried out with paper-based resources.
This lesson presents a good opportunity for small group work(ta) and some inquiry(ta) into how we classify; and why some classification methods might be more useful, or more scientifically interesting than others. There is also a good opportunity to use different sorts of questioning(ta); to encourage pupils to question each other; to engage in peer assessment(ta) and to focus discussion(ta) on the scientific method(ta) using key vocabulary(ta).
How would you respond? Using maps to model disaster support and recover exercises.This is a free workshop offered by the British Cartographic Society (BCS). Students are assigned roles for group work(ta) tasks to represent various disaster recovery agencies. Learning and teaching focuses around small group work, co-inquiry(ta), exploring ideas alongside negotiation, enquiry-based learning as well as a final whole class(ta) dialogue(ta). The overall aim of the workshop is for each group to produce a map suitable to meet the needs of the various disaster recovery agencies.
BCS organise and supervise the event on the day. They run the workshops throughout the year at a variety of locations. Schools can host their own event or attend an organised one elsewhere. The only proviso is that BCS have access to a large hall with Internet available.
If you would like to host or attend a Restless Earth workshop please contact the British Cartographic Society via the following link: http://www.cartography.org.uk/default.asp?contentID=982
|Polygons||Exploring properties of rectangles: Perimeter and area.|
Do two rectangles that have the same area also have the same perimeter?A problem to inspire higher order(ta) questioning(ta) especially in whole class(ta) dialogic teaching(ta) encouraging pupils to engage in mathematical thinking(ta) and language(ta). You could use Geogebra(tool) in this investigation, as an example of same-task group work(ta).
|Populations||Populations and ecosystems|
Rabbits and vegetation - a real population case studyLearning objectives are met using the following approaches:
|Probability||Playing with Probability - Efron's Dice|
I have some dice that are coloured green, yellow, red and purple...Efron's dice provide a discussion(ta) topic for joint reasoning(ta) - whole class(ta) or in group work(ta). Pupils can explore aspects of mathematical thinking(ta) particularly with relation to probability.
|Reading skills||Reading and discussing popular science articles|
Read. Get the world's view and see how science works for realThe resource relates to the importance of:
It can be delivered through a combination of homework(ta) (perhaps to find an interesting article), group work(ta) to explore various articles (perhaps in a carousel), and/or use of ICT(i) including PowerPoint files to encourage students to present an area they are interested in.
|Sampling||Sampling techniques to assess population size|
|Science||Primary Science Investigation|
What is involved in 'doing a science investigation'? And what is there to assess?This resource describes the process of doing an investigation for inquiry(ta)-based learning. Teachers could share practice(i) and lesson planning(ta) ideas using the list of pupil skills (e.g. observing). It also lists learning goals for investigation skills (e.g. observing, predicting, problem solving) and ideas for exploring different types of practical work(ta) in science.
It could be used for discussion(ta) or brainstorming on how to apply these skills to different content areas. The resource emphasises engaging pupils in the scientific method(ta) - using higher order(ta) thinking skills, group work(ta) and dialogue(ta) to facilitate knowledge building(ta)/reasoning(ta).
|Standard Index Form||An Introduction to the Standard Index Form|
Working out the rules according to which a calculator displays large numbersThe Standard Index Form is a key idea for mathematicians and scientists. The notion that we choose to write numbers in this way requires some explanation. So in this activity, pupils take part in an investigation(ta) on how standard index form works. This is a higher order(ta) problem solving context where students are encouraged to engage in mathematical thinking(ta). They may be involved in whole class(ta) or small group work(ta) discussion(ta), so they have a good opportunity to practice using mathematical language(ta) and questioning(ta).
This means that students do not need to be able to explain their ideas in full: they can use the calculator's feedback to discover whether their ideas are correct or not. This is also an exciting way for pupils to realise an initial idea that fits the data may need to be extended when new data arises. This resource therefore aims to develop investigative skills, as well as introduce pupils to standard index form in a memorable way. The pupils can later use their knowledge of indices in discussion(ta) and group talk(ta) as they explain what is happening.
|Using ICT in Science Teaching||Effective Use of ICT|
A resource for lecturers to introduce their PGCE students to effective use of ICTA presentation introduces student teachers briefly to the history of school ICT(i) provision and engages them in more detail with ways ICT has been used effectively in supporting science teaching and learning as they engage in small group work(ta) to evaluate material.
|Using images||Organising images for a narrative|
Write an essay without wordsThe lesson encourages students to think about how to portray their knowledge through narrative(ta) - which may engage some students who would usually be less interested. The lesson encourages students to think about how to capture valuable information and ensure that key elements are highlighted while not 'overloading' the viewer with data. The lesson can be tailored to any age group - for younger pupils the task could be to take before and after photos and label them. More advanced pupils might explore time-lapse photography. Pupils should be encouraged to think about how this relates to the scientific method(ta) The task is interactive and could be conducted as a group work(ta) activity or as an element of an inquiry-based learning project. It could also lend itself to whole class(ta) dialogue(ta) and the use of ICT(i) including 'clicker' response systems for assessment(ta) and questioning(ta).
|Video||Making Movies in the Classroom|
Using Movies to develop communication and literacy skillsThis activity is a cross-curricular(subject) activity, involving a collaborative(ta) approach, giving children to opportunity to engage in group work(ta) whilst making digital media in the form of films. The activity furthers e-skills(topic) and e-safety(topic). The topic of e-safety(topic) provided a great stimulus for the video(tool). Equally, however, this approach could be applied to any topic or subject in school. The use of video also encourage active learning(ta) as the portability of video recording equipment allows it to be used outside the classroom in a range of contexts.
|Wikis||Sharing ideas introducing wikis|
What do you need to know? We could make a Wiki page for that!When used properly, wikis(tool) are powerful tools that enable sharing of information and knowledge. This course explores how they can be used in the classroom to improve teaching and learning and enable collaboration(ta) on group work(ta) projects. It also covers important considerations such as e-safety(topic) and e-skills(topic) as well as ways to engage in sharing practice(topic).