Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Making Civics Real Workshop 3: Public Policy & the Federal Budget  
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Workshop 3

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Teacher Perspectives: Assigning students to groups

Leslie Martin: When I first started thinking about small-group work, particularly the first year or two that I taught, I was overwhelmingly frustrated. I know that it’s good for the students [but] I really avoided it sometimes. This year I said, “I need to do this. I need to make it happen. What makes groups effective?” I went back to some of my non-teaching experience, where I taught grownups how to work in groups. I said, “What is it that makes them successful?” I said, “They have a knowledge of themselves and other people (What kind of a person am I? Am I the kind of person that goes for a laugh? Am I the kind of person that waits to see what is going to happen? Am I the kind of person that charges to the front? How do I react with other people?)” I gave them a little personality test where I asked the students to describe themselves. I gave them a whole list of words (e.g., kind, smart, leader, gentle) and they said which word describes them best. Then we took [some] categories [from the Myer-Briggs Type Indicator on temperament and character, e.g., a more fun-loving type, an easy-to-get-along type, a person that is focused on the details. We asked students to say what they thought a person was and then an individual had to tell what they really were. Most of the time the students guessed right, partly because I think they are developing behavior skills. Some people think you can’t change personalities. That’s not what I was talking about. I was talking about how certain behaviors are more effective than others and then the kids had to affect behaviors that were not their normal behaviors. They had to role-play. Not only was it fun, the students saw that they can change their behaviors. We then talked about what made people effective and how hard it is to change. I taught the kids to be more aware of themselves and their other behaviors.

Next, I assigned roles. I said, “Here is the group that you are going to be in. For the duration of this particular activity there will be a note taker, a facilitator who will monitor, [and] a process for gathering input from each person.” I actually went so far as to say each person gets 45 seconds of time [when other members of the] group may not interrupt. So we had the personalities, we had the structure, and I monitored them and gave them feedback on how their group structures went. Then the monitor provided feedback within the group.

I am torn when I assign group work between random selection and individual selection. I got bit by randomly assigning a group. I probably had about eight groups of three, and three of those groups did not work well together. I had mothers calling me. “Oh my son worked so hard.” Then the mother of the other student said, “My daughter worked so hard.” It was the finger pointing that was not pleasant. After that, I sometimes let them pick their groups, particularly if it’s an out-of-school-activity. If it’s in school, where I can monitor it, once or twice I have had to pull a kid out of a group and talk to him. But I generally speak to both the kid and the group about what their behavior is doing.

[For this lesson] I randomly put them in groups. I have a history of simply picking birthdays and assigning all the kids who have birthdays in June to a group. Today I simply counted down five names alphabetically and announced their groups. I teach the students that you don’t get to choose whom you work with and that everyone has something to add. With this class, I don’t mix by ability because almost every single student is very high-ability or high-drive, and they tend to balance each other out.


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