A Forensic Investigation into Group Work

The key to the ongoing success in Project-Based Learning is the ability to scaffold for students the development of skill sets, as well as content. Furthermore, it is important that teachers who teach in a PBL context have a deep understanding of the purpose of grouping and use a wide range of scaffolds that foster successful group work strategies. Recently, I conducted a workshop for some teachers on helping them come to a greater awareness of these scaffolds and their unique purpose. The workshop was presented in a CSI theme, where we analysed a dysfunctional group and explored some possible reasons for the demise of the group and identified strategies that could be employed in assist future groups.

Below is a snapshot of this work:

ENTRY EVENT – The Crime Scene

During the presentation of a project, you notice that Kenneth is doing all the talking. Adam tries to add his thoughts but is constantly cut-off by Kenneth. Christopher presents a prepared part of the presentation, that does not sound like something he would produce. Furthermore, Robert stands away from the group and does not contribute to the presentation and every time Charlie tries to speak he just laughs.

The next day you receive a note from the parents of Kenneth and Adam expressing the hard work that their son has contributed to the project and their group members have let them down. They are extremely concerned that the lack of effort by other group members will have an adverse effect on their overall mark.

In analysing the peer feedback data you find that all students have scored their group members low, while scoring themselves high. A range of reasons have been provided with the scores.

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THE SUSPECTS – Who is involved in the success or failure of this group?

Below are the suspects identified from the investigation. They include the five students and the teacher in this project.Suspects

THE EVIDENCE – What strategies could have been used to stop the demise of this group?

EVIDENCE 1 – The group contract

The group contract is the glue that keeps groups functional. Without this key scaffold, dysfunctional groups will occur more frequently. We cannot just expect that students will learn collaborative skills by the more opportunities that they have to work in groups.


Below are some key insights to consider with group contracts:

  • Keep the contracts readily available
  • Refer to the contract when problems in the group arise
  • Ask the groups to reflect on the contract at the end of the project
  • Is the step-by-step firing clause evident?
  • Continual reference and application of roles throughout project, so roles must be taken seriously.


EVIDENCE 2 – Assign group leaders

Assigning group roles is important to the success of groups. However, it is important that the teacher is purposeful in the selection and rotation of leadership opportunities within the class. Tuckman’s team development model is good guide for developing leadership capabilities within groups.


Below are some key insights to consider with managing group leaders:

  • Meet with the group leaders on a daily basis to discuss the group’s progress and any questions their group might have.
  • Provide the group leader support with their responsibility.
  • Have the group leader keep a daily log of what the group accomplished.
  • Award bonus points to the leader if all deadlines are met.


EVIDENCE 3 – Project pacing charts

The use of project pacing charts provide a visible progress snapshot of each group in the class. They also allow students in the class to have autonomy on the decision-making regarding their progress. This can also be used in conjunction with the group contract, so that there is equity regarding the distribution of tasks within the groups.

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Below are some key insights to consider with project pacing charts:

  • Ask the students to fill in due dates and responsibilities for all aspects of the project.
  • Ensure that they assign the and record all student responsibilities and contributions.
  • It is important that this scaffold is visible to all students during the project.
  • Review the pacing chart on a regular basis


EVIDENCE 4 – Group Observation Checks

The use of group observation checks provides accountability to both students and teachers for the role that they play in managing the groups within PBL. Concerning the teacher it allows them to collect evidence on each student, so that further explicit teaching may occur especially in areas where students are stuck in working collaboratively with other students. Regarding students it provides them with feedback that they can feed forward into future group situations.


Below are some key insights to consider with group observation checks:

  • Ensure that you a range of formal vs informal check-ins with all groups.
  • Manage opportunities for brief check-ins with students in a particular role from each group.
  • Make sure that you document the discussion and provide the feedback to students. This make require students to note-take the feedback on their own rubric.


EVIDENCE 5 – Formative Group Evaluations

Sometimes the only time that we collect feedback from the group about the performance of all group members is at the end of the project. This information can only assist with the next project, not the current project. The use of formative group evaluations can provide the teacher and groups members with evidence and direction regarding resolving current issues, before they become significant issues.


Below are some key insights to consider with formative group evaluations:

  • If you are formatively assessing, you are managing your classroom effectively with accountability, reflecting on your teaching and their needs, and ensuring quality PBL project products.
  • It is important to understand how this information will be collect and presented for all students in the group.
  • Ensure that the form is easy to use and understand.


THE ARREST – Who is responsible?

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Unfortunately, the teacher is responsible for providing the enabling elements to ensure that groups can work together effectively. All the elements listed in the evidence above where not used by the teacher in this scenario and hence the group was dysfunctional. These elements are only the basic elements in managing groups, there are many more that you can use or some that you may currently use. The key is to ensure that everything that you select has an explicit purpose to enabling students to grow and develop their collaboration skills.

If you have any others that use, please share them with me and I can add them to the evidence.

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