How do you handle the major logistics of using cooperative learning (i.e. absences, noise, grouping students, etc.)
Tara, Science in the City:I often have attendance issues in my class, so, although I use cooperative learning frequently, I rarely do activities that span more than one day. I have a much more successful time keeping students engaged if the groups are constant and made up of the students who are present on that day, and they can start and finish the activity with that group. I use a variety of groupings, depending upon the activity. Sometimes I let students choose their own groups, other times I group randomly (often using Popsicle sticks or a deck of cards, and other times I create groups based on certain characteristics of students that I want. I think because students know they will get to choose at least a good amount of the time, they are more willing to go along with my groupings on the other occasions.
Kimberly, OC Beach Teacher:When students are absent for group work, it can be a real challenge. For instance, when my students are doing literature circles, each group member has a job. If one of them isn’t at the ‘meeting,’ the other students in the group have to do the work of the absent student. Since this frustrates the other group members, I’ve encouraged the students to do their work ahead of time if they know they will be absent, especially athletes who know they have games. Now, with a little positive peer pressure from the group, these students will often complete their work ahead of time to help out their classmates!
Dawn, Algebra Simplified:While a huge fan of cooperative learning, I abhor chaos and firmly believe productivity and learning levels drop in its midst. Over-the-top cooperative noise, the main chaos-creating weed, sometimes stems from innocent roots.
Root 1:Students are working with people they love.
Weed-spray: Remove the novelty. Students sit in groups in my class, everyday. No need for long-lost reunions when they’re always together.
Root 2: Students cannot hear themselves over everyone else talking in the room, so they become louder just to communicate.
Weed-spray: Play background music at moderate volume. Seemingly counter intuitive, adding noise to reduce noise, the music acts as a volume plumb line. “If you (or I) can’t hear my music, you are too loud. Bring it down a notch.” Moreover, the music smooths over appropriate communication and settles my nerves.
Clair, High School English on a Shoestring Budget: Flexibility is required to deal with the logistitics of cooperative learning. Projects generally include both group effort and individual efforts. I often include a group grading sheet– though my students are often reluctant to “narc” out a non-contributing group mate. Since my students do projects in class, I can also keep an eye on who’s working on the project and who is not– and I’ll go up and ask the little dears, “What are you working on?” I tend to let students pick their group mates, and remind them of this if they get “stuck” with a non-contributing member– and I’ve allowed regroupings, such as leaving a non-productive group to work alone or dropping a constantly absent group member. Ultimately, I’m not a fan of group work– I’m not convinced that the slackers get much out of it, even under penalty of failing if caught (hard as that is to prove, too) and I’m not convinced that those who carry the group are learning anything other than negative lessons about collaboration– at least not outside the ideal classroom where students are generally all there to learn and succeed.
Sara, Ms. Fuller’s Teaching Adventures:Absences, that are not excused negatively impact students’ grades for the assignment. I actually choose to assign groups and do so by putting the most dedicated students together and the least dedicated together. This doesn’t take ability level into account, but does account for work ethic. The four students who rarely come to class can work together. I try very hard to keep groups from having one or two people bring them down.
With regards to noise I recognize it’s unavoidable. If it gets too loud I will stop everyone- refocus their attention, and let them start working together again. A group or two being allowed to work in the hallway is also helpful.