Sunday, April 6, 2014

Formulating group ground rules

A six-part "Successful Teaching Practices" workshop is offered by the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETL) this semester with last week's discussions centered around group work.  As the facilitator, there were a few key items that I was determined to include, one way or another, as a topic for conversation.  One such topic is the need for the students to have a conversation about what effective group work looks like - or, if you prefer, what the important ingredients might be.  There are different ways to go about this conversation.
    A recommendation from McKeachie's Teaching Tips (2011) is to provide the student groups with a list of suggestions and to have them discuss each of the items together (see example list shared below).
    Source: McKeachie (2011, p.199).

    An alternative to providing the students with a pre-populated list is to have them brainstorm ideas for what should be included as part of a group activity.  In Helping Students Learn in a Learner-Centered Environment, Terry Doyle recommends a seven-step activity:
    • The activity begins with students working together to respond to a pair of questions; the first question asks the students to identify to characteristics, behaviors, and attitudes that made positive contributions to successful group learning experiences in the past while the second question asks for characteristics, behaviors, and attitudes that acted as barriers (2008, p.86).  
    • The second and third steps of the activity ask the students to record and then share the identified characteristics, behaviors, and attitudes with the whole class until all of them are on the table for discussion.  
    • The groups are then asked to utilize this information to draft ground rules that will guide group work during the term.  
    • Final steps of the activity include compiling the ground rules into a master list and having the class vote on each of the ground rules.  
    Including students in the process is an important step and is very much consistent with the suggestions of shifting the balance of power towards the students found in Maryellen Weimer's Learner-Centered Teaching (2002).  In fact, Doyle identifies an activity from a workshop led by Weimer as the basis for the seven-step activity outlined in his book and summarized above.

    Doyle, T. (2008). Helping students learn in a learner-centered environment: A guide to facilitating learning in higher education. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publishing, LLC.
    McKeachie, W. J., & Svinicki, M. (2011). McKeachie's teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (13th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
    Weimer, M. (2002). Learner-centered teaching: Five key changes to practice. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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