Why group students? - Ideas on which Grouper is based

  • Grouping students is good only for those tasks that are appropriate and organized for group work.
  • When students have been taught how to work in groups, group activities are more successful.
  • Making tasks meaningful, interesting, relevant and varied make grouping activities better.
  • Heterogeneous grouping is often better yet.
  • Purposeful heterogeneous grouping for group-experienced students doing meaningful tasks is the classroom equivalent of heaven!

Elements of Successful Classroom Grouping

1. Purpose – gains can be made in some areas only (or at least better) in groups - but group projects are NOT EASY to do well. So, if your goals can be met with a worksheet (an exciting worksheet, of course), you may not want the messy business of grouping the students. Some examples of desired outcomes that might be appropriate for group work:
  • development of collaboration skills
  • understanding of a multifaceted topic
  • learning from a hands-on activity that requires sharing of materials
  • improving the social climate of the classroom through structured, positive interaction
  • encouraging the broadening of friendships (weakening the exclusivity of cliques)
  • giving socially-challenged students (including bullies) practice in appropriate social interactions
  • pulling isolated students into the group
  • including students who are pulled out of class for ELL, SPED, TAG, etc. as an integral part of a project
  • demonstrating to the class the strengths of a student with deficits (a non-reader, for example)

To evaluate a group project, chosen outcomes should be measurable: How well did the students learn the material? Do they demonstrate the social skill more often than they did before? Has the isolated student become part of the group? Success depends on being explicit about the goals you have for group work because the goals will guide all of your planning (including who goes into what group and with whom, what the roles of group members will be, what prerequisite skills will need to be taught, how the project will be graded, etc.)

2. Heterogeneity – becoming a cohesive group is not easy when the class structure is segregated by social standing, socioeconomics, academic ability, ethnicity, gender (boys' line, girls' line). But, given solid grouping practices, mixed-ability, cross-ethnic, mixed-gender groups can give students rewarding, productive experiences interacting with those with whom they do not have much chance for positive contact. <more >

3. Classroom Climate - a class in which the students get along, appreciate each other and respect differences is a pleasure to teach. A side benefit is that cohesive classes are better able to handle the more diffuse structure of work groups. Clear expectations of behavior and respect, consistent acknowledgments and consequences, social skills instruction and team building activities such as classroom meetings can pull a class together, give students a sense of belonging and make group work more successful. <more >

4. Including Students with Individual Needs - group cohesion is a challenge when students in a class are ability grouped, pulled out for specialized instruction or divided up to be sent to other classrooms. Work groups that include meaningful tasks for mainstreamed students can help weave them into the fabric of the class. <more >

5. Group Work Skills – the bad news is that there are a number of prerequisite skills to be taught to maximize chances of success in group work. But the good news is that all of those skills are valuable and important for students to have. As with teaching any skill, group skills involve some variation of 1. describing, 2. demonstrating, 3. giving practice, 4. testing for learning and, 5. reteaching as necessary. Some skills that may be required include: orderly moving into groups, staying with the group and on task, quiet voices, listening, accepting and appreciating differences, polite disagreement, taking seriously the assigned role and respecting the assignments and efforts of others in the group. A class with these skills is much more capable of independent activities, self-directed learning and self-control whether working in groups or not. <more >

6. Tasks – in choosing topics for group work, it is important to consider:
  • fit - is it part of, or connected to, the curriculum? Will it advance your academic goals?
  • relevance - how does it connect with today's students' lives?
  • duration - start with short-term projects and work up to two to three weeks maximum
  • scope - is the topic broad enough to sustain a project but not too big to handle
  • product-oriented - what can the group share with the class to demonstrate what was learned (display, skit, presentation, paper, etc.)
  • segmentable - can the topic be broken into chunks that individual members can take on
Nearly any topic can be structured for cooperative groups but not without planning. <more>

7. Organization – as experience helps students become more skillful working in groups, they require less structure. But, in the beginning it is essential that students know exactly what is expected of them. What roles they are assigned? What products are required? What are the timelines? What are the behavioral expectations?

Fair evaluation of group projects is an important issue as well. Although it might seem reasonable to give each member the same grade based on the final product, this practice can pull a class apart rather than make it more cohesive. If one student doesn't do his or her part and the product is incomplete or the other members need to pick up the slack, they should not get the same grade. One alternative is to grade each student on a rubric that includes both the work the student did and another on how well the student worked as a member of the group. <more >

When you are ready to group your students for a group project, click on this link to go to Computer Assisted Grouping resources.