Saturday, 11 October 2014

Group mentality: thinking about 'group work'

Group work means working as a group.  It's something we understand and appreciate: many hands make light work, two brains are better than one.  (Too many cooks spoil the broth - there's always a counter argument.)  "Group work" implies collaboration.   Collaboration underpins learning and teaching.  Remember Vygotsky? ..."problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers”?

So when you think about group work, are you thinking about purposeful activities which pupils can complete collaboratively?  You may have planned an activity requiring pupils to contribute to a single outcome (a presentation, a solution, or a method).  Or the activity might be intrinsically collaborative (a game, or a challenge that involves combining a range of skills).  Or it might involve peer support or evaluation with pupils providing positive, constructive or critical feedback to each other (solid Assessment for Learning practice) in order to fulfil the requirements of the activity.  That's group work.

This kind of group activity doesn't just work.  You'll have to model it, perhaps give it some structure (hand out roles: scribe, spokesperson, manager, etc), set clear expectations, train pupils to collaborate effectively.  Once you've got this established, group work - collaborative group work - will pay dividends.

But if "group work" means "sitting at a table with five other pupils, each pupil working on an individual task", then it's individual work.  "Group work" used in this context is an organisational euphemism for the way pupils are distributed around the classroom.  It's to do with management rather than learning. That's fine, and it often makes sense for pupils to work without the explicit support of others.  But it's not group work.

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