My students finished their first cooperative group project last week. The student groups created presentations that explained how to drive safely. The vocabulary topic was city/street vocabulary, and the grammar point practiced was affirmative informal commands. I used a few ideas from Kagan’s book Cooperative Learning, and I feel like it was a successful learning experience for all.
Group organization: I randomly grouped students in groups of three or four, because I didn’t know my students well enough to sort them in heterogeneous groups. I used the “puzzled people” method, that is to say, I cut up postcards into four pieces with # 1-4 written on the back. I put all the pieces in a bag and had students randomly pick a “puzzle piece”. The students found their group by putting the postcard together. I already had the roles and the goals for the assignment typed up and distributed it to the group at this time. I had my recorder (#1) jot down who was in the group and what # each student had drawn. I kept this log for the duration of the project for accountability purposes.
Project breakdown: Individually students wrote 8-10 commands/pieces of advice that they would give a new driver. After the individual writing was done, I had the even numbered students and the odd numbered students switch papers and do some peer editing. I then instructed them to come to a consensus and pick from their individual work the best 8-10 instructions/advice for the group project. They would need to find images to match their text and put it all together in a Google Docs presentation. I taught #2 students how to use Flickr Creative Commons and credit the images in the presentation, while #1 & #3 students created, organized and typed the text on to the slides in the presentation. #4 was editing and proofing work along the way. My Flickr experts were able to go back to their group and start finding images to pair up with the text. They were encouraged to teach other group members how to search and upload images as well. When the group was done with their initial draft, #4 sent me an invitation to edit/view the presentation.
Teacher feedback: When I viewed the presentations, I selected individual slides that were well designed, and put them in my own Google presentation, then the whole class spent 15 minutes viewing the presentation, and my students explained to each other why the slides were aesthetically pleasing, easy to read and used good design principles. I then broke the kids up into their groups and gave them feedback on the content/design of their group’s presentation. I noted grammar issues that needed to be corrected by making statements like “problems with ser vs estar” or “check placement of direct object pronoun”. I wanted the students to go back and find the items that needed correcting. I did not want to point out the specific problem for them. (I am hoping this will make them better editors by helping them develop proofing skills and confidence to find their own mistakes.) If the group didn’t understand what the problem was, I asked them leading questions like “ I know you used ser with colors in Spanish 1, but when a traffic light is green, will it always be green?” or “Check your notes on where the DOP belongs when used with an affirmative command.”
Student feedback: After the final project was submitted, students filled out a short, confidential survey asking them about their role, how well the group worked together, and any other information they wanted to share with me.
Project evaluation: I was very pleased with the final projects. We spent a LOT of class time on this assignment, but my understanding is that time and feedback on the front end will make procedures and future assignments go smoother. At least a third of my students know how to use Flickr, and all know how to use Google Docs. My students now know that I expect good design from future projects, and they also know that the content needs to be well edited and proofed.
I’m keeping these groups for a few more weeks as we do other activities and small group work in class. I think groups of three are still best for group projects. I find it difficult to make all four roles equitable and keep all four students on task at all times. However, for other types of cooperative work, four is perfect because you can have partners work with each other and then share in a small group. The number of students in my class also make working in groups of four much easier.
Although Kagan is a strong proponent for allowing students to work out problems over the course of time within their groups, of my 30 groups I will have to make changes in 3 groups. The changes I’m making have more to do with chronic attendance problems with a couple of group members than the groups having problems working with each other. I had one group that was really down to 2 students because the other students were frequently absent. This of course brings up the question of how to evaluate those students? For this project, I gave those students an alternative written assignment that was not worth the same number of points.
I found the student surveys to be a good way to check in on how the kids thought they were doing within their group. I think that the kids who didn’t contribute equally to their group were pretty honest about their work and tended to rate their group a little lower than the students who perhaps were more involved. There was one group that was upset by the quality of work that their group mates produced, but the students were honest and confronted the other group members, and they were able to divide the work load up equitably before the final project was due.
I'm still working on teaching the students how and where to publish their work. Until then here is a link to another example.