Science, Education, and Science Education

classroom applications
August 14th, 2011 by Luann

Collaboration, Lab Work and Student Roles

Group Roles

Neurology Students in Berlin, a long, long time ago.

My introduction to assigning student roles in group work came in 1994 at a Project Discovery summer workshop. I didn’t question the value of this practice. More experienced teachers and university professors shared their expert guidelines.  As teacher participants in the workshop, we used these canned roles as we worked our way through canned labs intended to inspire student discovery. They appeared, we decided, to be a pretty effective method for managing students in lab settings and for facilitating student communication about their work. The checkpoints added strategically to canned procedures helped me check for understanding while students were working.

The system seemed to be pretty slick. I implemented the practice and revised the duties for each role a few times over the years.  I was careful to rotate roles among students so everyone had the opportunity to hone his or her skills. Groups always had the flexibility to re-create roles so long as they were safe, equitable, and productive. Once the basics of working together were clear, the mechanical roles that had perhaps played a part in their learning were done automatically, while student thoughts were occupied with learning.

Recently, someone who I remember as teaching physics (please refresh my memory, whomever you are!) on Twitter asked about group roles.  I replied that yes, I found them helpful but didn’t really use them much in 12th grade Physics…. and then it struck me. I’ve worked in 2 small school settings since adding the use of roles to my practice, so I get to see students more than one year during their high school careers.  I noticed that it took a while to teach 9th graders how to work with one another in lab.  When I saw them again as 10th graders, many already had great lab group skills.  Lest I give the impression that I am a drill sergeant who believes that compliance = success, I’d like to clarify that often after a few months, student groups were coming up with their own norms for group roles.  So long as their norms embraced safety and learning, I encouraged this. When I saw students again in 11th grade, I spent almost no time dealing with group communication skills.  By 12th grade, kids had  perhaps learned enough about collaboration to transfer that learning to a new lab situation on their own.

Something is still missing. I want to help students learn to work together in settings outside of the laboratory.  Students could use role guidelines to learn to be supportive, contributing members of a collaborative group learning experience. By modeling roles for other types of collaboration, will students be able to transfer those skills to other situations, courses, and real-world situations? A colleague at my new school gave me a copy of a set of roles she uses in implementing POGIL activities.  I reformatted them and am fairly pleased with the way they feel at this time.

Suggestions for use:
There are currently 8 roles in all, allowing a teacher or students to choose the roles needed for a collaborative group to begin working together. One group member can play more than 1 role.

  1. Choose a random way of assigning the leader/manager.  Ask the student in each group who has his back to the door, the oldest, youngest, first alphabetically by last name, or some other criteria to be the Leader/Manager.
  2. The Leader/Manager can then distribute the remaining roles.  Early in the year, I sometimes choose in such a way that each student has a chance to play each role at least once during the first few weeks.
  3. The first time role cards are used, I will ask all the Leader/Managers to raise their hands.I ask one of them to read aloud the purpose and responsibilities.  Often we will do a mini-fishbowl with an example of one of the responsibilities.
  4. When finished with Leader/Manager, chose another role.  Repeat, until each role you are using has been explained.
  5. I will sometimes call all the Leader/Managers together for a moment to check progress or to ask if there are questions.  This gives the students a chance to hear what others with the same responsibilities are doing.  I’ll sometimes ask Time Managers to hold up 1, 2, 5 fingers to let me know how much more time they might need with a certain task.

The current draft is now open for public comment 😉 I’d like permission to incorporate your ideas into my work, with credits, of course.  I’ll publish word or google docs of the final product, available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License as always. Please share your thoughts.


One Response to “Collaboration, Lab Work and Student Roles”
  1. […] group will receive an appropriate set of role cards as described here.  Today’s task will require the Leader/Manager, Reader, Document Control Specialist, and […]

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