Are your students working in groups?

Are your students working in groups? Most of us have been convinced by now of the power of collaborative learning, whether in formal semester-long, project-based cohorts or in informal occasional in-class groups. Here are a few tips for managing group work in the classroom from James M. Lang:

“No matter how well you design the task, you will have students who don’t understand it, and groups that wander off course, and students who will do their best to sit back and let others have the conversation without them. So you do need to provide some supervision of the groups, however minimal. At the same time, students will feel inhibited, and may clam up, if you plunk yourself down in a chair with a group right after you have set the task. Give the groups a few minutes to begin the process on their own, after you ensure that all the groups have understood the task and are making progress. Then move around the room, occasionally eavesdropping to check for problems, but primarily making yourself available for assistance” (114).

Lang goes on to offer suggestions for dealing with common problems that arise with group work—including getting off task, dominators and slackers, and finishing early. Want to read more? Check out On Course: A Week-by-Week Guide to Your First Semester of College Teaching (Harvard 2008), available in the CELT Faculty Writing Community in MLIB 458. (Where we are eager to brew you a big mug of Peets coffee and hear how the semester is going so far.)

*Authored by Dr. Katherine McCarthy.