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Carla Hayes

At first glance, this teaching method seems to have its share of drawbacks. For one thing, it can be much more difficult to maintain discipline and keep students on task when several activities are going on simultaneously. It also usually takes longer to distribute information when you are relying on students to discover it and compile it for themselves. Then there's the question of how one can give fair and accurate grades for group projects. Though these may be legitimate concerns, they should never be excuses for not planning co-operative learning activities. Here are a few suggestions for solving some of the problems in making small group activities run more smoothly.

First of all, it is important to ask yourself whether assigning a group activity is the most appropriate way to accomplish your objective. In some cases, a classroom lecture or a homework assignment may serve your purpose better. In general, group work is conducive in situations which involve discovery learning such as experiments or circumstances which require students to compile information and present it to the rest of the class.

A group activity can also be used as an occasional alternative to a test to give students the opportunity to apply the knowledge they have and prove their competence. When considering a group activity, be sure that it is within the ability and maturity level of your students. Ideally, the activity should be difficult enough to be challenging but not so hard that it is overwhelming.

Third, when planning, co-operative learning activities, special care should be given to the physical arrangement of your classroom. If your classroom consists mainly of tables, the room can be arranged so that each group can work at a table. If you have individual desks, cluster the desks in groups with each group separated by as much space as possible. Whether you have tables or desks, it is a good idea to arrange them so that the groups are clustered around the edges of the room with a clear open space in the middle and as much space as possible between each group. This arrangement will make it easy for you to circulate among the groups and monitor your entire classroom from the middle of the room.

You must also give careful consideration to how you will group your students. It's seldom a good idea to allow students to pick the people in their groups. This can lead to several problems. First, students will invariably choose to work with their friends. When this happens, they may spend more time socializing and less time getting the job done. Second, when students do the choosing, they will probably gravitate toward working with the "A" students, and the "A" students may be unwilling to consider having slower students in their groups. This usually leads to hurt feelings because certain slow or less popular students may never be chosen to be in a group. If this happens, the teacher's only choice may be to group the remaining unchosen students together. This will create unfair and inaccurate grading, because the better students' group will receive the best grades, and the other students will not be given a fair chance. In addition to this problem consider the long-term effect it will have on the child's self-esteem when he is consistently not chosen by other students.

In my experience, the best results are obtained by making sure that each group contains students of all ability levels. For example, each group could contain an "A" student, An "F" student, and several students of average ability. This way, the better students can help the ones who are having problems, and every group will have an equal chance for a good grade on the project. If possible, each group should contain students with various talents and learning styles. This way, group members can divide up and share the tasks required to complete the project, and each student will be able to contribute to the activity by doing whatever he/she does best and feels most comfortable doing. It is also a good idea if each group could contain at least one student who you know to be particularly responsible, mature, and conscientious. Since receiving good grades is of importance to this type student, they are not likely to tolerate a lot of goofing off in their group. They will help you keep all group members on task. In addition, it is not wise to group together students who don't get along for obvious reasons.

Finally, while group activities are in progress, your role should change from teacher to facilitator. Make sure that you have provided adequate and accessible resource materials so that students can work independently. Then don't just sit behind your desk. Instead, circulate around the room, quietly observing their work. Give quick answers to questions and help students stay on task. Never linger too long with one group, and be careful not to interfere with students' work by butting in and offering too much help.

In conclusion, there are many advantages to assigning group projects. It helps students take charge of their own education. It builds confidence and leadership skills. It teaches students to work co-operatively with others, which may be the most important lesson they ever learn.

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