Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Grading Group Work

I confess, I love this picture because it is so completely posed.
Image by Saad Faruque CC BY-SA 2.0
Teachers, do you use group work in your classroom? You should. There is pretty comprehensive literature on the benefits of collaboration and social learning. (Try googling "social learning theory," or "zone of proximal development," or "collaborative learning," or even "problem-based learning" to learn more.)

Over the years, I've used quite a lot of group interaction and collaboration in my teaching practice. When I taught junior high science, I regularly had students working with a partner, or even a small group as they conducted their lab activities. When I taught computers & media classes, we did many different collaborative projects to create media. Now, as a college instructor, I have a whole course that requires students to work as part of a team (we're trying to model what middle school teaching teams look like in practice.) In each case, students may learn from me as instructor, but they also learn from each other.

There are different strategies that can be employed to make students' learning more integral this way, but the problem always crops up for me with how to assess collaborative work. How do I fairly grade group work? Do all the students get the same grade? Is each graded on their individual contribution? How do I know who contributed what to the final product?

At the recent Association for Middle Level Education conference I attended, the idea of students learning collaboratively came up in several sessions, and in one session I gleaned this gem of an idea:

Don't grade group experiences...grade the takeaways from the group experience.

I'll just leave you to think about how that might look in your teaching practice. I know I'm reconsidering how I've thought about group work!

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