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How Teachers Can Impart the Benefits of Students Working in Groups

By The Room 241 Team February 2, 2013

The idea of working in groups can cause stress and anxiety for students. Peer criticism can be intimidating, particularly for students who are introverts or who are not completely confident with the materials. Additionally, students can be tough critics of one another. While the benefits are clear once students have participated in a successful group project, teachers must first get their buy-in.

Two ways teachers can impart the benefits of students working in groups

Teachers should explain the different ways group members can contribute to the process, then set expectations on how students are expected to behave when working in groups. Using these methods can win over solitary students and make the group project process more enjoyable and enriching for everyone.

Students working in groups: Everyone has something to contribute

Giving a short how-to lesson before beginning group work is a good strategy for letting students know what to expect. Harvard’s Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning lists different ways group members can contribute; teachers might impart these roles to students, along with examples:

  • Taking initiative
  • Giving information
  • Clarifying
  • Asking questions
  • Summarizing

These actions give students of all learning styles something to do when working in a group.

Set ground rules for students working in groups

In addition, teachers should set ground rules for the process of group projects. Virtual Teacher gives good guideline for students working in groups, which can be taught before the work begins, then posted in the classroom where students can look at them for reminders. These include:

  • Make sure everyone has a turn to speak
  • Listen carefully
  • Give reasons for your opinions
  • Disagree respectfully — do not use put-downs
  • If the group has a question, they should raise their hands or appoint one person to go to the teacher

Creating these boundaries benefits all students; both those who may be prone to inappropriately critical dialog as well as those who may be hesitant to participate due to their own insecurities and fear of criticism. All of this will help students understand that their ideas are valid, but that they must all come to an agreement that is filled with compromises in order to achieve the desired result.

Group work boosts critical thinking skills, active learning and independent thinking

When teachers encourage group work, they offer students a safe environment in which they can interact without all eyes of the class focused on them at once. Additionally, students will need to actively participate in helping the group reach its goals. As teachers foster this safe environment, it strengthens students’ ability to think critically and speak up with confidence. With group work, teachers are asking students to take baby steps toward excelling academically since higher education will require far more group collaboration.

Working in groups facilitates positive results

Teachers are able to watch each student’s learning, confidence, critical thinking skills and other learning characteristics improve without their interference. Teachers see the results of the project itself, but more importantly, teachers are able to see the students’ social interaction, problem solving, critical thinking and other invaluable learning traits improve before their eyes.

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