Assessing cooperative learning activities presents a challenge for this educator. For each project, Lee gives a group grade, a daily grade, and an individual grade for group work. In setting up the groups, Lee randomly shuffles the students. Because she uses group assignments often, students know they will be in a different group very shortly, which cuts down on complaints.
“Each day of the group work, I have a roster with the groups listed. I spend the entire period just watching the groups within the class,” said Lee. “At each observation, I make short notations about how individuals are doing. I use a code so I can just jot numbers.
“The students have to really know what the procedure is for a project, or you repeatedly restate instructions and have no time for observation,” Lee added. “Each child starts out with 10 daily points, and I add or subtract points to this total, depending on the behavior I see. After a couple of months, this is not really necessary in most classes.”
A group grade depends on a finished presentation or project, according to the established objectives. Lee develops individual grades, which receive the greatest emphasis in scoring, from confidential “brag” sheets she gives out at the end of a project. Each student explains his or her role in the activity and the individual strengths he or she displayed. The students rate their work on a scale of 1 to 10 and explain what they did to merit the grade. The students also rate the others in the group on the same scale and write similar explanations.
“I find that students are incredibly honest in both the self-evaluations and the evaluations of their peers,” Lee said. “In the three years I’ve been using this method, only one student abused it in an effort to get another in trouble. Because I had brag sheets from the entire group, it was easy to see what was going on and to adjust for it.”
Lee’s grading method reassures the hardworking students that their efforts will be rewarded, even if the group grade isn’t what they might hope for. The less-motivated students also learn quickly that they need to contribute if they want a desirable grade. Before the implementation of this grading system, some of Lee’s students treated group work as a holiday, suggesting that one of the motivated kids would do their job to make sure that the group got the A.
GAMING FOR GROUPING
Aimee McCracken, who teaches in the public school system in Perry, Ohio, has a unique method of creating groups for cooperative-learning activities in her third-grade class.
“I cut apart comic strips and pass them out to my students,” explained McCracken. “They must walk around the room to find the rest of their comic strips, which creates a team. This activity is an easy way to create groups. The kids think it’s fun, so there are no complaints!”
According to McCracken, cooperative learning is a wonderful way for students to work together in teams. “Students see the importance of understanding one another’s views and feelings,” she explained. “They learn that working with others is not always easy but has numerous benefits. I work with students to help them understand that each person has his or her own way of doing things.
“When the students are part of the workforce, they will have to listen and learn from others as well as share their own opinions,” added McCracken. “This is great preparation for the ‘real world’!”
McCracken says that cooperative learning is essential in her inclusion classroom. She believes that the experience benefits all students– not just those with special needs. Through cooperative learning activities, students become teachers and instruct one another. Children who need challenge must think of creative ways to teach other students, and those who need guidance are more comfortable because the lessons are coming from their peers. McCracken has observed that students seem to feel secure and are not reluctant to share their feelings with others in the classroom.