Sunday Panel

How do you deal with assessment when students do a project together?

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City: Collaborative learning, as we know, can be hugely beneficial, but have disadvantages as well. We know that students can take advantage of others, intentionally or not intentionally, and may not get the full benefit of the learning experience. However, they can also benefit from learning from each other, and from speaking and listening to the key vocabulary terms and concepts. Additionally, students need to have the chance to learn social skills and to practice positive, productive interactions with peers. The benefits of collaborative learning outweigh the negatives, if used carefully.

CDickson Profile PicClair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: The advantage is the ability for students to collaborate. It can cut down on off-topic chatter that interferes with work, while allowing students to learn with and from each other. It can make learning more active and engaging…

Assuming that students are actually working collaboratively. The downside is when group work is uneven in distribution– one or more students doing the work of remaining members. A truly student-led, open collaborative project is almost always, in my experience as student and teacher, going to have at least one student not pulling their weight (which also penalizes the others). I’ve even had students cover for others when each has assigned roles.

TPT ProfileSara, Ms. Fuller’s Teaching Adventures: Students typically groan when I announce that I am having them participate in a group project. However, I get them to be a bit more on board when I explain my reasoning. The truth of the matter is, working collaboratively in groups is a life skill. When thinking about the CCSS we are supposed to make our students College and Career ready. In both environments students must work with others to accomplish tasks. Learning how to successfully navigate group work will make them a more employable and successful person later in life.


My Favorite Cooperative Learning Structures

There are so many different cooperative learning structures that you can use in your classroom. It’s all about what you want to get from your students and how you want them to interact.

Here are some of my favorites:
Brosseau - Kagan Book
Why it’s great: It is a very quick way to make partners, and then groups of four, and it allows students to move.
How to do it: All students stand up, put their hands up and mix around the room to find a partner where they pair up. Use a fist bump or high-five to indicate that they are partners. Hands go down when the student has a partner so that the partner-less students are easily identifiable.

Why it’s great: Students can use this to review, but I love it for practicing presentations.
How to do it: Form two circles with an equal number of students – use StandUp-HandUp-PairUp to form partners and have one be on the inside and the other on the outside of the circle. Students share their presentation (or answer to a question) then have the non-presenting student give feedback. Switch presenters and then rotate the inside circle (by one student or multiple students if you really want to mix things up)!

Why it’s great: 100% engagement all the time!
How to do it: Have the students create review questions on index cards, include the answer too. Start with StandUp-HandUp-PairUp and have the students quiz each other, explaining the answer if they student got it incorrect. Swap cards and it’s back to StandUp-HandUp-PairUp to find new partners. If you have an odd number of students, you can join in the fun too!

One Stray
Why it’s great: Students become confident in an idea or opinion, then one gets to shine as they travel to another group to share those ideas and opinions. It is also much more organized than having a bunch of different group members meet up.
How to do it: In your groups of four, pose a question, have the students number off and discuss the topic. Be sure to let the students know that they will need a good understanding. Pick a number and have that number become a “travelling star” – other groups will have to entice the stars to come sit with them. There, they share the ideas from their groups and can bring new information back to their home group.

I love Kagan structures! Dr. Spencer Kagan was the one to introduce me to these cooperative learning structures at GLACIE in Toronto. Dr. Vern Minor solidified my love for them at the same conference the following year. I don’t get paid to say that (I wish!), but if you are looking for one conference, or one resource to get you’ve got to check out

Mrs. Brosseau's Binder Michelle is a secondary Science and Physics teacher from Ontario, Canada.  She blogs at Mrs. Brosseau’s Binder and shares her materials through her Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
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Getting Started with Structures

The backbone of cooperative learning is the structure that is in place. Just saying, “discuss with your group…” doesn’t work effectively until those structures are in place. But first, it is important to look at the physical space and the initiation of the structure.

Brosseau - Seating Ticket
I like to group my students in fours. 4 people is nice because you can have a range of skills, a difference in abilities, strengths, weaknesses, genders, heights, etc. I choose heterogeneous groups. And yes, I choose them. I certainly take into account some personal preference and offer the students a little form to fill out. I wouldn’t want exes sitting together with the high school drama that goes on. I meet my needs first for heterogeneous groups before I consider their preferences. Once the semester is well established I use a ranked class list to help the groups have a wider range of abilities.

Brosseau - Classroom1In terms of physical arrangement. I have tables and raised counters (lab bench) seating in my classroom. Most of the tables are set-up in a way that the students face each other, but the seam of the two tables is directed at the front of the room where I start the class and where the projector screen is. This works for the majority of my students.

Due to the configuration of my classroom, I have two rows at the front each with two tables. This works great for students who tend to get distracted and for students with poor eye-sight as it is at the front of the class.

The lab benches are used for seating if I have a large class or if groups need a new environment. They have stools on either side. Stools make it easier for students to move around the classroom.
Brosseau - Classroom2
Initiating Cooperative Learning
There are so many ways that you can order the students to help initiate the structure so there is no, “you go first.” “No, you go first!”
Numbering the students is easy, but you can have them number themselves. That takes only a few seconds. I always like to ask, “Where are my Ones? Where are my Twos? My Threes?” and then add “let’s start with Fours!” so they don’t think it necessarily is the order that we will go in.
Smallest to Tallest, or “closest to the ground” is a nice one because it is quick to see. However, if you want to avoid physical identifiers, how about getting the students to know one another better:
-Who has the most pets is number 1
-The youngest is number 1
-Whoever had the longest trip to school this morning is number 1
Those are just a few ideas, but if you can spare a minute or two you can build some relationships in those moments that students get to share a little bit about themselves.

Keep a timer in your room to keep track of how long interaction is going on. You want to offer each student a fair amount of time and not have anyone feel as if you cut them off too soon. Use the clock, or an online timer like this one:

Stay tuned to Cross Curricular Corner for some Cooperative Learning structures you can use in your next class!

Mrs. Brosseau's Binder Michelle is a secondary Science and Physics teacher from Ontario, Canada.  She blogs at Mrs. Brosseau’s Binder and shares her materials through her Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
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Sunday Panel: Assessments for Group Work

Sunday Panel StickyHow do you deal with assessment when students do a project together?

profile pic2Tara, Science in the City:I tend not to count group projects for a large grade, but for smaller classwork grades. On a small project I will grade the final product. In other cases, I will put three grades together (1) a participation/effort grade based on my observations during their work (2) a grade on the final product, (3) a teamwork grade or peer grade that their group completes. I may use something like this, or change it to fit the particular project.

CDickson Profile PicClair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: I include both true group parts (like assembling a group poster board) and individual parts to a collaborative project.  The weight of the individual parts is greater than the group portion, so the assessment is largely based on their individual work– but they can still collaborate in the process and help each other with the individual parts. I’ve used group assessments, where students rate their own contributions, with limited success– my students are so keen on covering for each other (or at least not “narcing” each other out) that they’ll insist that a student contributed, even if said student slept, was absent, or clearly did nothing.  Including my own assessment with theirs helps a bit with this, as they do their work in class, allowing me to see who is working and who is not, generally.

TPT ProfileSara, Ms. Fuller’s Teaching Adventures:I structure group assignments in a way that everyone must do an individual aspect and then they must work together to assemble a larger piece. This keeps everyone accountable for their own work. I also have students self asses and peer asses themselves throughout the project. I can compare what a student feels he/she did to contribute with what his/her peers think he/she did to contribute and assign participation points that way.


Feature Friday: Academic Conversation Bundle

Academic Conversation Cover Bundle“Are your students off-topic in class? Get your students talking on-topic with the Academic Conversation bundle. Check it out!

There are so many benefits to having your students spend time in discussion: increased engagement, higher retention, developing multiple points of view, empathy, and forging new relationships. This only works if your students are on-task.

These prompts and response starters are great to keep a conversation going and to make it go deeper. Students will challenge one another, build on ideas, paraphrase, elaborate, support ideas with examples and synthesize conversation. When used with cooperative learning structures, students will share in the conversation in a respectful manner that tames the chatty students while allowing the shy students an opportunity to share in a safe, small group environment.

The bundle includes posters and placements in both 8.5 x 11″” formats, as well as the super-versatile Academic Conversations flipbook that students can hold in their hands or paste in their notebooks.

You’ll use this again and again, every year because it helps students develop socially as well as intellectually. My administration believed in this so much that the principal had these posters professionally printed for every classroom in my 1500 student school! It has really paid off for us and I’m sure it will be a great addition in your classroom as well.”

Mrs. Brosseau's Binder Michelle is a secondary Science and Physics teacher from Ontario, Canada.  She blogs at Mrs. Brosseau’s Binder and shares her materials through her Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
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Using Roles in Collaborative Learning

teen groupWhen students are placed in collaborative groups, whether it be for a lab activity, literature circle, or other activity, it is very easy for them to become complacent and to let some (or one) member of the group carry the load.  While some of this may be intentional, I think that in some cases this is not completely intentional but due to the fact that stronger students may jump in, and weaker students may not know how, or be as quick to contribute.

Whatever the reason, one way to combat this is through the use of roles in the group.  I have found that for group roles to be successful, a few things must be in place:

  • The roles are legitimate, not created (there really are enough different group functions that need each other).
  • Students are held to their roles
  • Students are trained in their roles

This means that some time must be spent in class teaching the job ‘expectations’ and perhaps practicing.   Maybe roles are assigned the first time, and students can choose another time.  I have also found that it helps to have some sentence starters and clear examples for students of what their role looks or sounds like, and how they should/could interact.

There are many free versions online, but here are a few that I particularly like:

Role Cards from Read, Write, Think

POGIL Role Cards

Cooperative Learning Placards

These can even be laminated and attached to the table, or handed out repeatedly as students learn their roles.

Currently, especially with increasing technology use, many students truly don’t have good cooperative learning skills and are not good and the type of group interactions we would like to see.  As teachers, this becomes something we need to teach!

profile pic2Tara is a science teacher from upstate NY. She has taught General Science, Biology, Environmental Science, and Earth Science.
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Sunday Panel: Keeping Students Focused

Sunday Panel StickyHow do you keep your students focused during cooperative learning?

LanguageArtsClassroomLauralee,The Language Arts Classroom: Before students start cooperative learning, I ask them to brainstorm what it should look like. Chances are that they know the answer and have reviewed these rules before. It is a good chance to remind students and to correct misconceptions.

For classes that frequently work together, a reminder chart (perhaps laminated) of “”what cooperating work is”” and “”what cooperating work isn’t”” helps too.

EllenBrain7 (1)

 Ellen Weber:
I encourage MI tasks in teams that use and develop student strengths as a way to increase their interest and focus. For instance, verbal IQ develops by communicating more. So I might ask: What if you draft and submit a letter to the editor?

For visually stronger students, I might ask – What if you sketch, photograph your best idea? Visual IQ develops focus by designing images.

We also know that Kinesthetic IQ grows focus by moving & building, so I ask: .What if you build a model of an improved plan?

Those who love the social interaction focus better in teams when I ask questions such as: What if you invite a peer to a lunch discussion?  Interpersonal IQ increases focus by growing relationships that offer meaningful takeaways.

OC_BEACH_TEACHER_revised_finalKimberly, OC Beach Teacher:
One way I keep them focused is by making them all accountable. I used to have them respond in writing on one paper during two of my favorite cooperative learning activities, “numbered heads” and “trashketball.” Now, I ask each student to submit his/her own answers in writing although the group can work together as a team to develop their answers. It helps to involve the students who used to just sit there and let the better students do all of the work.