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Assessment: Preparing students for group work

Preparing students for group work

Group work is community based; the outcome is social as well as the project. We must provide an opportunity to set students up for success and prepare students for group-work activities, while also factoring in diversity as part of group success.

Using the UDL model to elevate team collaboration

“Instructors often ask students to work in groups without teaching them about group communication and how the best groups function. …Teaching students how to work together effectively is crucial for successful outcomes, both short term and long term.”

15 steps to group project success

  1. Best Group Ever” (discuss; pro-actively identify)

  2. Worst Group Ever” (discuss; pro-actively identify)

  3. Importance of Collaboration” (discuss; connect to real world, professional practice/specific discipline, etc.)

  4. Group Dynamics Homework”. (“It is my opinion that we often thrust our students into team projects without ever teaching them about how to be successful in a group”)

  5. Self-Assessment. (i.e. discover what strengths/weaknesses you bring to a group/team)

  6. Self-Reflection. (e.g. reflect on own role in previous groups, along with best/worst/group dynamics, etc.)

  7. Bring Assessment scores to class. (accountability; discuss)

  8. Class Networking. (discuss the benefits of a diverse group; Icebreaker activities + ‘keep an eye out for the introverted/etc. students)

  9. Group Selection. (“Assisted self-selection process”. Based on insights from class discussion, reading, reflection & networking + parameters. Instructor discretion to revise groups within a 1-week period.)

  10. Team Expectations Agreement.

  11. Group Project Evaluation Policy. (e.g. “teams will be evaluated on the outcome of their project as a whole + instructor works to understand how each individual contributed to the project and will adjust individual grades if necessary”). Provides transparency up front, before problems begin.

  12. Individual assignments that feed into group assignments. (“Individual accountability is essential for teams to operate optimally.”)

  13. Personal Assessment Letter. (A private communication to instructor about their group’s process and each team member’s performance.) 

  14. Rubrics. (“Students appreciate the transparency and guideposts of rubrics that keep them on track and focused on the most important aspects of the assignment”) 

  15. Outputs & Evaluations. (“Evaluation of the output completes the process. It is important to be clear on what the objective is and what the output from the group project should strive for.”) 

Preparing linguistically-diverse students for group work

Groups with diverse membership in terms of language and cultural backgrounds present unique advantages and challenges. For benefits, these groups mirror increasingly diverse professional and social networks and help students to prepare for them. Intercultural competence, or the ability to mediate between one’s and other cultures (Dimitrov & Haque, 2016), is an essential skill set for most workplaces. Multicultural groups generate broad ranges of ideas, perspectives, and creative solutions to problems. Research has found initial growing pains with multicultural groups were made up for in long-term success over and above culturally homogeneous groups (Finnegan, 2017). Here are some considerations to maximize the benefits and mitigate the challenges:

  1. The advantages and attractiveness of group work will not be obvious to many students. Depending on students' educational backgrounds, group projects will represent a new and uncomfortable challenge, with communicative requirements adding to the intimidation (e.g. deVita, 2001). Instructors need to be explicit in justifying the benefits and need for the proposed work.
  2. Clear and upfront assignment information, including individual/group deliverables, grading, and timelines, will help additional-language students (indeed all students) understand expectations and plan their work. It’s important to replicate information in spoken instructions, in written handouts, and on learning software like D2L. Build in regular check-ins to confirm understanding and progress and to remind students of supports (e.g., office hours, Help Centres, Writing Centre).
  3. Be intentional in focusing on team-building as an end goal in itself. Reflect that emphasis in grade allocations. If possible, design projects or sub-tasks that tap into members’ cultural expertise. Make groups safe spaces for sharing and discussion. Allow time to develop effective group dynamics through ice-breakers, finding commonalities and differences, and identifying individual skills within the group. A focus on cultural exploration and wide-ranging skills promotes a level playing field and moves groups beyond linguistic proficiency/deficiency binaries.
  4. Build in a variety of roles so that members can apply their strengths to group work. Give options for spoken or written reports, particularly if requirements may lead to stress about bringing down others’ grades. These can include individual grades for written/spoken products so that multilingual students can continue to develop those skills.

Associated resources

  1. (Perkins School for the Blind) “Making Group Projects Work with Diverse Students!
    https://www.perkinselearning.org/technology/blog/making-group-projects-work-diverse-students

“Often in unstructured groups, a mainstreamed student with a disability - such as a student with a visual impairment - is not always fully included in group projects. How can teachers facilitate equality and active participation from every group member, including groups with diversity?

  1. For culturally and linguistically diverse groups, Dimitrov and Haque (2016) break down the discrete competencies that go into intercultural teaching. Chao and Pardy (no date) describe intercultural team-building, the instructor’s role(s), and cultural parameters to be explored. Finnegan (2017) focuses on critical aspects of team building in group projects, including ways to frame diverse groups as opportunities. Eisenchlas and Travaskes (Intercultural Education, 2007) document four class projects that had the explicit purpose of increasing cross-cultural communication. Based on experience with multi-cultural groups, de Vita (2001) provides step-by-step guidance on making diverse groupwork successful (International Journal of Management Education, available through Camosun Library).