Having written a number of blog posts recently, it’s probably about time I wrote one about learning and teaching. In the era of TeachMeets, I’m going to share with you ideas to support effective group work.
The blog is based on a superb presentation led by Rachael Stevens @murphiegirl at pedagoolondon last year. As Rachel stated in her presentation, group work can be unsettling and challenging for some staff to implement. A number of dilemmas are presented. Will pupil A work with pupil B? How will I arrange all of the resources? Will group work be effective or would it just be easier to stick to the normal routine? And the list of questions could go on.
Rachael’s blog can be found here.
Teaching geography last year with Year 8, I put this into practice. Assigning pupils to groups can be a tricky process. One of Rachel’s strategies is to hand pupils random picture cards (you could using playing cards). As pupils entered the room I handed them an animal card and asked them to make their way to the table that had the same card as them. It was a pleasant surprise, observing the smooth transition to tables.
Following Pupil B’s fatal error of asking me a question and being taxed within the first minute of the lesson a competitive edge was created and I was free to wander around the class, without having to answer the usual 101 questions. The class attempted to work independently and used their peers to seek answers, although, to my amusement, they did tax one another.
If pupils strayed off task, I drew their attention back to the agreed individual and group roles. It was a huge success.
I reflected on Rachael’s presentation following an A2 Sports Psychology lesson on the topic of group success and implemented student - led action research reviewing the Ringlemann effect and Social Loafing.
The students were divided into three groups: a group of four, a group of three and a student working on alone. Each group was given a pack of cards and they had to arrange the cards in the following order.
To their surprise, the individual working on his own completed the task in the quickest time: 1minute and 15 seconds. The group with the largest group was the slowest. The reason? The larger groups did not have clear individual roles and as a consequence either fought to take the lead or decided to do very little. And this can happen in our classrooms.
After a review activity, the pupils undertook a similar task, but this time the cards were re-arranged.
This time the largest group was the quickest, at an impressive 1 minute and 5 seconds. The huge improvement in performance was due to a number of factors: students were aware of the final outcome (goals), they knew what the outcome looked like (modeling), they had a clear role which supported the outcome (individual roles) and importantly they had practised.
Over the years, I’ve seen a lot of ineffective group work during my observations. Typically, pupils are placed in groups of four. One is assigned the role of a note taker, another to hand out equipment, one to read and the other, whatever is left. Typically, whilst one of the pupils is talking or writing, the other two or three sit idle, doing nothing, or copying others around them. (My apologies to teachers for this generalisation).
Back to the A2 PE Sports Psychology lesson! My class was asked to research the Ringlemann effect and social loafing and then linked this to their experience of group work in school as students and how they would advise teachers.
The Ringlemann effect showed that teams of eight do not work eight times better than eight individuals; some team members can lose motivation. This results in process losses.
Steiner (1972) produced a model to show the relationship between the performance of the team and the individuals.
Actual productivity = potential productivity – faulty processes
Faulty processes fall into two categories:
1. Co-ordination problems: for example, ineffective team work
2. Motivational problems: for example, their work is not valued resulting in a lack of self confidence or motivation
This occurred during the card sort activity, when the larger group found it difficult to work effectively as they did not have clearly defined roles and got in one another’s way.
Social loafing occurs when team players lose motivation because they feel their contribution is not visible and they know they can get away with this. I’d imagine we’ve all seen the silent pupil within group activities, happy to hide behind the over dominant and confident self appointed leader of the group.
Taking these principles and observation of group work into consideration, find below advice from my students sharing their thoughts about effective group work.
Part 5: ‘Ethos, culture and vision’ to follow. #LeadershipLessons