By Youn Jung Huh
Working in groups is considered an important skill in almost every job field, and students should acquire this skill before they graduate from college. In the beginning of my education classes, I always do a quick survey to gauge students’ previous learning experiences and their personal learning styles. Many of my students often mention that they prefer to work in groups, yet they also report that group projects are one of their most challenging assignments. This means that even if they like to work with others, they may not know how to collaborate to achieve the same goal. To support students who are not equipped with the skills to do collaborative work, I applied some of the techniques discussed in ACUE’s Course in Effective Teaching Practices, including the Jigsaw technique, facilitating in-class group workshops, and running debriefing sessions after each group workshop.
Jigsaw as a way to prepare students to work in groups
I implemented the Jigsaw technique to help students acquire skills to work as a group, as discussed in ACUE’s module “Using Active Learning Techniques in Small Groups.” Below are the steps that I followed:
1. Divide the lesson into segments.
2. Assign segments to different groups. Each group becomes the expert in one segment.
3. Each group prepares to teach a lesson on their segment to the class.
4. Each group teaches their segment. Other students listen and ask questions.
I asked students to make a list of significant issues in the education field, and then to choose one to research. Based on their interests and the course objectives, I was able to arrange five research teams that focused on different issues. For this research project, individual students were responsible for contributing their study results to the group’s final presentation, as well as participating in the in-class group meetings, collecting and analyzing data, and preparing materials for the presentation.
While students worked in groups for their research project, I checked to make sure each group understood their part of the project by asking questions and providing additional materials. I also carefully observed the individual students. This information helped me to determine how to facilitate the next group meeting and assign roles to individual team members.
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In-class group workshop
I provided three in-class group workshops to students to develop their shared expectations, set goals as a group, and develop a habit of working in groups. In each workshop, I explained their goal for the meeting and provided a guideline, which included a to-do list and timeline of the project. Additionally, in the first group workshop, I asked each group to select one leader and one recorder to more effectively communicate with the group members and monitor the group projects.
The in-class group workshops enhanced the Jigsaw technique, as I could respond to students’ immediate needs and monitor how they chose their research topic, specified research questions, and found ways to answer the research questions.
Suggestions for implementation:
• Start the class by sharing an overview of or agenda for the workshop.
• Provide a rubric that explains how students’ work will be evaluated individually and as a group.
• Break down the session into small steps with time frames so students can stay focused on their work and accomplish their goals in the allotted time.
• Monitor each group’s progress by asking questions and taking notes. Read the group dynamic. There will likely be someone who appears to be struggling to be part of the group.
At the end of each in-class group meeting, I had a debriefing session with each group. For the debriefing session, the recorders needed to write a brief summation of the meeting minutes, describing their progress and their individual plan for the next meeting. The group leaders also reported the group’s work to get my feedback at the end of the meeting. During this time, we were able to identify what needed to be done and roles for each member of the project. This helped students stay on task and be aware of their roles on the team. Also, it helped me identify students who did not actively participate in the group meeting and find ways to support them. I met with these students individually after class or during my office hours to guide them toward doing their part of the research project.
Suggestions for implementation:
• Provide a skeletal outline. This will be used as the form for meeting minutes and as a checklist of tasks to accomplish within a given time frame.
• Make the debriefing session a conversation rather than a one-way report from the group leader to the instructor. Give students time to ask questions and encourage them to reflect on and address their contributions to the project.
Without a thorough plan and systemic guidance, we cannot simply expect students to acquire skills for collaborative work. Students need to develop a habit of working as an active group member through meaningful learning experiences in class. Setting aside regularly scheduled group work time in class is not easy since we have topics we must “cover” in each class, but it will help the students develop a skill set for collaborative learning, and most importantly, as explained in ACUE’s course, it will “help students improve their foundational knowledge, higher order thinking, and social skills.”
Youn Jung Huh is an assistant professor in the school of education at Salem State University. Her research interests include early childhood education, young children and digital technology, and teacher education. Her most recent publication is titled “Uncovering young children’s transformative digital game play through the exploration of three-year-old children’s cases,” published in Contemporary Issues in Early Childhood. She earned her ACUE credential in spring 2018.
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