Making Group Work Work
Below you will find resources and techniques we use in our classroom daily to create collaborative group structure. Most of the techniques we describe come from a teaching methodology developed by Stanford Ed Professors called Complex Instruction and the training we received from Jo Boaler. To learn more about Complex Instruction watch the video below.
Prior to this training and implementation of these techniques, group work in our classroom was not equal. We observed that not all students' ideas were valued, and that some students (mostly the higher achieving ones) dominated and took over. That's not what we had envisioned for our group work! We wanted to create an environment in which all students' ideas were heard and valued. Where students engaged in mathematical discussions and debates (CCSS.MATH.PRACTICE.MP3). And we wanted students to learn the important character building traits of collaborating with others (empathy, open mindedness and responsibility to others).
We use group roles so that each student has a sense of responsibility and an important part to contribute. These roles help students learn how to work in a mathematically minded collaborative group work setting. There are lots of options online for group roles. When we first introduce group roles to our students we wanted to make sure that all roles were seen as equally important. We also wanted to challenge each student to build their character traits as they worked in groups as well as growth as mathematical thinkers. We looked at a few examples and modified them to make them fit with our goals of having each role truly be equal and not have any role "seem" more important or a higher status than another.
Click for Group Roles
Tip: We like to print roles on bright cardstock paper (This one from Amazon works well) and laminate them so they last the entire year.
In the video below I share a few tips on how we roll out group roles in the beginning of the year. We should also mention that these roles can be great for reducing status issues in a group. For example, if I want a quieter student to be more vocal and ask questions then I select the role of the septic for them.
We realized that having group roles was not enough. After the initial honeymoon period of the school year, students would begin treating them as desk decorations, kinesthetic origami toys, or rulers.
The participation quiz is the secret teacher trick we use to get students to actually use the groups roles, but also to reinforce what equal group work should look and sound like! We first learned about this teacher move from Jo, who modeled it for us during one of her trainings. This has changed our group work game big time!
To set the scene, we tell our students that today we are only going to be looking at their group work. We have a slide (click here) in which we describe what we expect to see and hear from each group.
While students are working in their groups, we walk around recording our observations of each group. We like to use this handout to keep track of our observations. We record quotes students say and actions they do (both positive and negative).
The MOST important part of this is to leave enough time to then publicly share with the class the things you observed and overheard from each group. Nothing gets 8th graders quieter than hearing feedback about their peers.