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PLACES TO START: GROUP WORK, COLLABORATION, AND IN-CLASS ACTIVITIES

Getting Started:

  • Think carefully about how students will be physically arranged in groups—will it be easy for groups to form and for all students to be comfortable?
  • Think about how the layout of your classroom will impact volume—will students really be able to hear one another clearly? How can you moderate the activity to control volume?
  • Consider a variety of different ways to assign students to groups—rather than the default of allowing them to always choose their own groups.
  • Insist on professional, civil conduct between and among students to respect people’s differences and create an inclusive environment.
  • Talk to students about their past experiences with group work and allow them to establish some ground rules for successful collaboration. This discussion can be successfully done anonymously through the use of note cards.
  • Offer detailed and step-by-step instructions in a variety of ways—on the board, on handouts, and verbally. Don't just assume that students will "figure it out."

Making Connections:

  • Clearly communicate with students about what your goals are for these activities. Don't assume that students know what the pedagogical purpose is. Connect these activities to larger class themes whenever possible.
  • Scaffold these smaller activities toward large assignments so that students understand the trajectory of their work and so that they build materials and knowledge—so that they have these materials and this knowledge with them when they tackle a larger assignment, and are enabled to continue the creative process rather than saddled with the responsibility to begin it—this also combats procrastination and plagiarism.

Interaction:

  • Take part in these activities yourself when possible—not as an expert but as a peer.
  • Use smaller activities to invite a variety of literacies and learning styles—not just reading, speaking, writing, arithmetic.
  • Design collaborative work in multiple constellations and forms—pairs, small groups, large groups, online synchronously and nonsynchronously, and so forth—because set alignments might privilege certain students and relationships. For instance, some students might be better at contributing after they have had time to digest material, while others might be better at thinking on the spot; other students will defer to others in large groups but actively contribute in pairs; all roles should be valued and included.
  • Think carefully about how students will communicate and solve problems with one another—will the default be that they always have to speak up in front of their group? Will you just let them define their own roles? How can you make some changes that offer alternative modes of engagement and communication, value a variety of ways to contribute, and disrupt default power dynamics? For instance, consider creating some roles and rules that encourage students to build consensus, check in with all group members, and so on.
  • Consider flexible timelines in and out of class—be very careful about asking for activities to be completed quickly. Timed activities rarely elicit the best thinking or teamwork and more often elicit the opposite.
  • Remember that not all students are comfortable with extended direct eye contact and other forms of social interaction. Ensure that students get the chance to take breaks from intense social situations.
  • Just as there are many different ways to participate as part of a work or social group, there should be many different valued roles within classroom groups—and there should be flexible ways to earn grades and credit for contributions.