A number of posts have been published in recent days discussing the effectiveness – or otherwise – of group work. The arguments tend to the definitive: it’s good….it’s not good. I’ve found that with my sixth-formers working in small groups – often competing groups preparing alternative views on an issue – I have been lifted by their collaboration, the releasing of ideas, and the organisational skills of some of them. In fact, in recent UCAS references I’ve referred to the highly developed abilities of some of my Year 13 to instigate mature discussion within their group, entice reluctant speakers to contribute, and actively value the suggestions of other group members. They have achieved things far greater than I have managed teaching the group as a whole. That, however, is A-level students. With GCSE and KS3 students it is another matter. Putting a collection of sometimes reluctant individuals into a group does not make a ‘team’ – or even a ‘group’ within their perception. The collective has to be processed into a ‘group’ with a relational commitment to one another and a sense of individual accountability for the success of the group’s operation.
This is where I have found Group Effectiveness Tally charts to be of use. Put on the whiteboard, I allocate ticks as I walk round the room absorbing what each group is doing. It clarifies those groups who know what to do, but are sitting there waiting for prompts (black group); those where one or two voices dominate and others sit as passengers (blue group) and those who are off-task and need more directed guidance (yellow group). I’ve been genuinely amazed at the transformational impact it has on group discussion as it dawns on students what is going onto the public display and behaviour is modified as they realise their group has very few ticks or numbers allocated.
The chart can be personalised for rating individual students by allocating each person in the group (in the example 4 students – I wouldn’t consider larger groups) a rating according to how well they are meeting the target. The importance, with both, is to be able to change the rating as groups or individuals change their behaviour to become more immersed in the discussion and the completion of the task. The thrust of the technique is to encourage, then mirror, changes in behaviour towards that which is desired. When students can see the ticks, or their individual grading change before not just their – but the class’s eyes, then their commitment becomes visible within the group and on the board.
Like many ideas – it is simple, but effective. And it can transform a Year 9 group activity from a semi-disciplined romp through their social calendars for next weekend, into productive, task-focused discussion. And goes some way to neutralise the nay-sayers who claim that group-work can never… work.