As we come to the end of the week, I thought this would be a great time to talk more about group projects. The most common associations we think of when we hear the word, “group”, are classroom assignments. But, groups that form surround us constantly. We have friend groups, groups for school purposes, work groups, or even sports teams. Group settings allow us to learn how to associate with one another and ultimately learn new skills and information from working with one another.
To get students more comfortable in a group, having fun exercises for students is a great way to have everyone get to know one another. Common icebreakers, such as the game, two truths one lie, is a good class exercise but is often over used by a lot of teachers. I would recommend having challenges each group has to uncover solutions. Depending on class time available, there are many activities that can even relate to all class types. Highly recommended, is the notecard structure. Groups of four to five are given a roll of scotch tape and one-hundred notecards. Within a time frame, the groups must create a structure (stacking cards flat on top, does NOT count) that can withstand the heaviest weight. This activity gets groups discussing and testing what they believe would be the best structure. The best part of this activity is how creative students can get! Triangle formations turned into circles, boxes filled with reinforcing cards, and zig zags are put to the final test.
When groups have better relationships and can communicate with each other comfortably, you will see how efficient and effective the group is. Decisions are no longer a battle, and instead of just getting an assignment finished, students are more likely to retrieve the information because there are more discussions within the group. There are always the groups that get caught off topic, and this isn’t necessarily a terrible thing. Sometimes negatives have hidden positives, aka lessons. When a group gets behind, they usually have to spend the rest of the time strict on the assignment or learn to better manage their time.
When faced with working in a group, there are some things to avoid, that being group think. Often this happens when groups aren’t completely comfortable with one another. We’ve all experienced taking a step down from shouting out our opinion when faced with people we don’t particularly know or may be older than us. The result of group think is a single answer from a group that isn’t truly in agreement. Everyone has an opinion and the best way to get the best logical answer or task completed is to hear everyone through. It is important to truly believe input is taken into consideration and valued but still giving honest feedback.
Distractions are hard to fully get a hold of, but with the increase in technology, cellphones can become a very big distraction, not only to a singular person but to the whole group. Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Facebook have constant news feed updates that appeal and draw attention to almost everyone. This is where time management can go downward spiraling. In many college level communication courses, cellphone use is kept on a strict stow away policy. I’ve seen classroom discussions die immediately because everyone is nose deep on their social media sites. By limiting phone use during class, not only increased participation throughout the classroom but comfortability with new people. But keep in mind, cellphones are necessarily all bad. Locked inside of our hand-held devices sits almost too much information for our own good. Everyone hits a thought road block and sometimes that calls for some additional information.
Students don’t only benefit from group projects, but facilitators experience many advantages. When assignments are given to groups, they are typically more complex and offer a set of challenges that require a higher level of thinking. Additionally, the unpredictability can keep a class entertaining and interesting, because every student has a unique way of thinking. One of the most obvious benefits is the decrease of grading. Group assignments, mean group grades and ultimately a large decrease in time spent looking through stacks of papers.
Maneuvering into including more group-based lessons and projects is most certainly an odd transition for both students and facilitator. It is vital to lay down base rules or better yet, have students lay out base rules for their group. Just like any world known sport has rules, so does working with a group of people in order to keep the playing field calm. It’s like a contract to your fellow group members that was specifically created by everyone, for everyone. Stay focused, have honest contributions, and let others know when you cannot attend class, are common examples that set a foundation for working and respecting one another.
Now that I have discussed the advantages, transitioning recommendations, and problem-solution methods, it’s time to make a move into including more group projects for more group interactions.