Definition of Terms
Groups can be organized in a variety of ways. For the purposes of team learning it is recommended that groups be organized based on criteria which will facilitate productive and supportive group dynamics. Certain factors may be important to consider distributing among groups such as students with expertise, skills and background in the subject, international students and nontraditional students. It may also be important to keep gender balance in groups and distribute freshmen, sophomores, juniors and seniors. Balancing other kinds of strengths and weaknesses may help insure that groups function well and do not have distinct advantages over one another.
Team Learning groups stay together over the course of an academic term. Research shows that the amount of time spent working together is directly related to how well the group functions. Consistent groups are able to move through initial stages of distance and caution with each other to developing trust, more open communication and an investment in individual and group success.
This process consists of five steps:
- Reading assignment. Students are exposed to concepts primarily through assigned readings.
- Individual test. Students take a well-written multiple choice quiz of 10-20 questions over the assigned reading. This provides individual accountability and helps reinforce the student's memory of what they learned in their readings.
- Group test. By taking the same quiz with their assigned group, students orally elaborate the reasons for their answer choices. Lively discussions ensue as students towards consensus on each quiz answer.
- Appeals. Students get a chance to submit written appeals as a group and challenge "incorrect" answers. Appeals which are granted restore credit for the questions missed. As a result, students are highly motivated to engaged in a focused restudy of the readings which often clarifies their understanding of particularly troublesome concepts.
- Instructor feedback. Based on the individual and group tests, instructors are aware of the students' level of concept understanding. At this point the instructor is able to provide feedback which specifically addresses any remaining misunderstandings and confusion.
Students need to know how well they performed on individual and group quizzes as soon as possible - preferably shortly after the quiz is given. Readiness Assessment Process quizzes are not meant to be lengthy. They are designed to target key terms, ideas and concepts and get a reading on how well students are understanding their reading assignments. Quizzes are often 10-20 multiple choice questions which can be completed in 10-15 minutes.
Depending on the size of the class, individual quizzes can often be graded during the time groups are completing the quiz together. In very large classes, Michaelson uses a portable scantron machine and is able to give immediate feedback to groups and individuals. Group quizzes could be traded and graded by other teams or teams could do their own grading if this was an appropriate option. Groups could also be asked to fill out two answer sheets, turn one in (as insurance against cheating) and then the other could be scored in class.
The immediate feedback is critical to being able to move forward with the appeal process.
After the group quizzes have been completed and graded, teams are allowed to appeal any answer they missed. This option to appeal is only available to groups, not individuals. In order to appeal groups must submit an appeal form which identifies the group,the quiz number, and the question in dispute. Then, using material from their reading (properly sited), they must build a case for why the answer they chose is correct. The appeal is then submitted and it is up to the instructor to grant or deny it. If granted the team receives credit for that question added to their team score.
This process can generate some wonderful learning for both the teacher and the students. Teachers are made aware of questions which were ambiguously written or confusing. They are also made aware of other interpretations which could be valid. Through this process the instructor becomes more skilled at creating a good multiple-choice test. Students feel empowered in that they can argue for their way of thinking as long as they ground their arguments in the assigned readings. In order to make a case for their answer, they often read and reread the material very carefully, analyze terms and definitions and employ the kind of critical thinking skills we so wish them to develop in the course.
Many group assignments fail because they are not designed to create a positive group dynamic. When a group assignment is designed so that one member can take over and do it independently, there is little incentive for the group to work well together. Effective group assignments require the effort of each group member.