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Group work can be beneficial

Letter to the editor:
I’d like to add some additional points to James Silvernale’s article “Group projects are immature.” Group work can benefit students. Students having difficulty understanding content often comprehend when others demonstrate “how to do” an assignment in a group context. The type of group activity that has been researched the most is cooperative learning (CL). Often, faculty do not implement CL correctly.
Robert Slavin, an educational psychologist, has described several different forms of CL in his text, “Educational Psychology”. The common features of CL, along with some implementation errors in parentheses, are:
1. The teacher lectures the class on content and skills needed to do the assignment. (Many teachers use CL as the vehicle for students to learn, instead of directly teaching them.)
2. Students are put into small (3-5) mixed ability groups. (Often, teachers let students form their own groups, which may not result in a mix of high, average and low skills.)
3. The teacher then gives a short assignment based on content taught—CL should only be done in class.
4. The assignment is scored and returned to the students, and group success/improvement is celebrated.
5. After the activity is completed, students take an individual assessment over the content/skills that are recorded as a grade. (The performance of the group on the activity is used to produce a group grade—it is unethical to assign grades on group work; a student’s grade in a course should only reflect her/his achievement.)
A variety of CL is Aronson’s “Jigsaw” (see http://www.jigsaw.org/). In “Jigsaw”, each member of the team is assigned a specific “piece” of the project, and must teach the other members of the team that piece. In Jigsaw, faculty can assign a grade to each individual’s performance on their piece.
I hope this letter, and Mr. Silvernale’s article will stimulate additional discussion among faculty at VSU about how to best use group work.
-John H. Hummel
Department of Psychology and Counseling

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