When I was taking education classes, group work was all the rage, therefore I was somewhat surprised when I got into a real high school and saw that it wasn’t used all that much. I had incorporated small group interaction in college classrooms with much success, but the consensus in high school was that it was largely an excuse for gossip and flirting. I’m certain college students are no less immune to those temptations; they just aren’t as familiar with their fellow students.
Nevertheless, the value of group interaction can’t be underestimated. Students who are too embarrassed to ask me what the heck I mean, will ask their friends and get a satisfactory answer, or they will come to me as a group. Also, those brilliant but quiet students who never raise their hands will spread their wisdom in a small group. So, I stand by group interaction despite all that gossiping and flirting.
Nosy person that I am, however, I like to hear the process of those discussions, which to me is much more interesting than the outcomes. I want to hear how they got from point A to point B. And I want to be able to respond to their confusion when it comes up, which is impossible as I can’t be in attendance at every group at the same time.
The solution is to make group interaction digital. Why, you ask (reasonably), should students who are in the same room together talk through a computer rather than face-to-face? The primary reason is that verbal discussions fade into vaguely formed ideas. Yes, you can have one member of the group write them down. And then that one student keeps the ideas in his/her notebook. Or, that one student renders the discussion so concise, all the meat is left out. Or, that student’s handwriting is atrocious.
Take a look at this example, which has been accomplished easily by setting up a Google Doc to be shared between the teacher and the students in a group. In this example, students have been paired to respond to quotes from their readings of Frankenstein. The value of group interaction has just increased, with nary a gossip in sight.