Selling and Implementing Roles and Teamwork in the Classroom

roles and teamwork

What are we doing to help kids achieve?

As mentioned in a previous blog, I just received a heavy dose of POGIL at NCAPP.

The part about POGIL that I previously glossed over was the “Process”. I saw the process of students thinking like scientists but what I struggled with, and I imagine many others do as well, is how students work together in groups. Yes...I know it is important but is this a big battle that I want to fight? I was fortunate to meet several people who have developed some wonderful “tricks of the trade” to help students work as “teams”.

First is the need to “sell” the idea of group work to students and parents. Teachers have found that there are times when one or both groups are less than enthusiastic about working as a team. Here are some ideas….

Laura Trout garnered the idea from “Circles of Learning; Cooperation in the Classroom” to have kids look at want ads in the newspaper that do not have to do with content specific jobs. What do the ads state? Almost all of them talk about teamwork….not just a bunch of individuals working as a group.

Many teachers challenge their students to examine winning teams and ask, "What do winning teams have in common?".

Several high school teachers discussed that they have honors and accelerated students who sometimes are opposed to working in groups because they want the “A” and don’t want to be dragged down by other people. The college professors responded with an interesting perspective. They often have freshman come in who were the top 5% in their class. They are now in a college class in which everyone is the top 5% and they are just seen as average for that class. This has a huge impact on their ego and performance. So if a student goes from “excellent” to “average” in the matter of a few months, what is the one thing they can do to stand out in a positive way? They can work well in teams. What college professor would not want that from a student?

Another teacher tells her students that when she places her students in groups and provides them defined roles (manager, technician, reporter...etc) it allows her to catch them doing things well that are not necessarily academic. This will help her be specific should she need to recommend them for a program. Most programs want evidence of student “soft skills” that many times can seem so intangible.

How do teachers implement group roles successfully?

The answer to this question varies from teacher to teacher based on the context of their situation and culture of their school. There are some common themes. First, as previously stated, there must be a reasonable rationalization for doing this. A key to “selling” the idea to students is that “you will need this in the future, whether it is in the workforce or college”.

Next, student teams must be given specific roles within the team and examples of what each member does. These roles are on posters or laminated sheets at every table. Different teachers use slightly different methods. Lindsay Turk from Sun Valley High School found that her students struggled with specific roles. She and a colleague came up with a unique twist. She has a simple three-point rubric with including roles that involve specific actions such as “Focus”, “Work Together”, “Help each other” and “Explain”. The sheet is laminated and each table gets one. As a group she quickly scores it with a dry erase marker. As the lab progresses she can change the score for better or worse and students can earn points back. If one group starts well they might get a 3 for “focus” but if they start talking about the homecoming game or dance, their score might go down to a 1. They still have a chance to raise this score if they get back on track. She has found that this method helps with “positive interdependence”.

Other instuctors use the specific roles suggested by POGIL. These roles are reflected in real world jobs.

Mark Morehouse from Fossil Ridge High School in Fort Collins has a great method to not only evaluate soft skills in students but also a way to provide positive feedback. Each group gets a sheet that has a number of categories such as “interpersonal skills”, “integrity”, “lifelong learning” and “professionalism”. Underneath each category is an example(s). As an example, under “Professionalism” is the statement “Demonstrates positive attitude toward work and others”. So the person in the group in charge of recording gets this form at the end of the lab, sees that his or her partner did this under “professionalism” and must write down a few words of evidence about demonstrating positive attitude toward work and others. Mark collects these throughout the semester. At the end of the semester he passes them back to students. Students see, and get positive feedback, about what they are good at and they notice the blanks. Mark asks students to write three paragraphs. The first paragraph should be about evidence showing good interpersonal skills (like “professionalism”). The second paragraph is about what they need to work on. The third paragraph should be about student insights and reflections. Students, in the end, get positive feedback and learn where they need to improve.

Urik Halliday proposed an idea that gives students incentives to work well together as a group. The incentive Mark uses is extra credit on an assessment about the activity. The extra credit is only given if every person in the group receives an A on the assessment. This extra credit has many advantages. One advantage is that it encourages students to help all the students in the group instead of leaving members behind. Members can get an “A” but are not penalized if one member is struggling. Supporting a struggling member helps to create a “positive interdependence”.

There seems to be common threads for teachers who successfully institute roles and teams in the classroom. First, they sell the idea based on how these skills help students in the future. They provide students with specific roles. Teachers then implement rewards.

Have you struggled with teamwork or roles in your classroom? Drop a comment and let’s share strategies. All are welcome…..



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Comments 2

Michelle Filippini | Fri, 08/04/2017 - 21:49


I have been using Learning Teams for the past 5 years in my high school chemistry classes.  I agree that assigning roles is important (facilitator, recorder, summarizer, and presenter).  I like the idea you presented about explaining the "why" of teamwork.  I need to add this to my first week of instruction.  I am weak on rewards other than extra credit Mole Dollars.  Looking at starting an incentive to show improvement in assessments as a group effort in order to earn rewards.  Any suggestions for rewards?  Thanks for your insight!

Chad Husting's picture
Chad Husting | Sun, 08/06/2017 - 09:52

Great question....need to think about that.  Here is my goal this year.  I hope to talk more about teams and have them work in the same groups for about 3-4 weeks.  For rewards I am thinking of doing something I have done in the past....which is "Lab Hall of Fame".  I put their labs in a "lab hall of fame" for everyone to see.  Hope this helps.