Student Collaboration: Grouping That Works
Reviewed by Linda Biondi
Effective group work is an area that I and many other teachers struggle with. For me, I knew it was valuable, a 21st century skill that was needed for my students to become successful citizens of the world. But I still struggled with integrating group work into my classroom routine in a way that I felt was successful, met all the students’ needs, and promoted effective teamwork.
In our educational culture, there is an emphasis on group work and collaborating. Think about it. Teaching is a cooperative career. Imagine as a teacher being solitary in your endeavors and not having a team of colleagues that share lesson plans, ideas, and triumphs.
Teachers are the epitome of sharing because we recognize that teaching is a collaborative effort and we are trying to reach and teach all students. It is a team responsibility.
An excellent resource for secondary teachers
Vermette and Kline have aimed this excellent resource at secondary teachers – who may be more reluctant to embrace group work – to help them transform their teaching practices.
The authors’ Dual Objective Model can help students become more responsible and self-motivated learners, assist in developing their social-emotional competencies, help students master content, and improve problem solving strategies. Yes, that is a tall order, but the authors do it quite effectively and back their ideas with current research.
I would recommend reading Group Work That Works with a colleague or as part of a professional book club. It is not the type of book that you can skim, scan, or summarize without taking the time to ponder what you are reading and to open a productive discussion. It is the type of book that needs to be read, digested, and discussed. It is a book that makes you become more aware of your teaching practices and better able to self-regulate your teaching.
A book to revisit again and again
It also isn’t a once-and-done book but a book that should be revisited to share insights with colleagues and students. The authors provide a well developed approach that builds on the cooperative learning model. The first chapter explains the “what” behind cooperative learning, specifically the following five factors:
- Using small group work of three to four students working face to face on desirable learning tasks
- Emphasizing positive interdependence, a feeling of mutual reliance on every member
- Creating stable, heterogeneous teams
- Providing feedback to individuals about the quality of the interpersonal interactions during group work and on the products of their work effort
- Assessment of and for learning must be given to both group and individual
The book is extremely interactive. The scenarios in each chapter (and there are many!) often are followed by “Questions for Reflection” and/or the authors’ perspective (called “Our Take”).
Education has changed, and so much for the better! It no longer supports a “sit and listen to me lecture” format. The paradigm shift is toward developing work ethics and social skills, and learning how to communicate, problem solve, and apply technology while learning content. This is also a huge task and responsibility for teachers.
Overcoming the challenges of group work
Sometimes we wonder: If students work in groups will they be on task? Will they be challenged? Will one person dominate the group and others feel intimidated? The authors concede that sometimes teachers are afraid that if they place students in cooperative learning groups these things will happen. However, Vermette and Kline share sound advice and point out that their research shows that students do work well in groups and we often don’t give them enough credit for being impassioned learners and problem solvers.
This book is quite powerful as it advocates for more effective collaborative practices within secondary education classrooms. I have to caution you that it is not an easy read. If you attempt to skim the book and just pick out the “good parts,” it won’t work. The book needs to be followed with fidelity.
But before you say, “I tried cooperative learning and it doesn’t work that well,” try reading this book and applying the methods in your classroom. The book, built on the Cooperative Learning Method, can help transform your classroom into a learning community. Isn’t that what we want it to be?
A year into her retirement from teaching fourth graders, Linda Biondi will supervise preservice and student teachers at The College of New Jersey this fall. Over the summer she co-facilitated a weeklong writing institute in conjunction with the National Writing Project at Rider University. She volunteers for two service organizations: Homefront and Dress for Success of Central New Jersey – both have a mission to end poverty and homelessness. The mission of Dress for Success is to empower women to achieve through economic independence.