How do you orchestrate peer groups?

Video created by Elizabeth Uva Employee on Oct 23, 2015

    Condon: Collaborative learning, I mean, I think it's the most powerful kind of learning you can do.  It gets the learning process out in the open where students really have to negotiate it and talk about it. And it doesn't matter whether they're working as a group on a group project like a presentation or a paper, or just some research for class, or whether it's peer review and they're just working in pairs.  Getting that learning process out in the open where people have to negotiate it and realize what it is and sort of, in a sense, kind of take it out of hiding is the most important part of that.


    Cushman: I think peer work works best and actually unfolds best when the students share common concerns and issues.  It's not enough to just put students in a group and say, "Go solve a problem."  You actually have to get them vested in the problem and make sure that problem resonates with them in particular ways. So for example, let's do a peer review workshop.  If I'm telling students that their peer reviews actually impact their grades and how it is that I'm going to be reviewing their work, and if we have developed together an understanding of the model of the genre that we're actually writing in, and students see precisely what the criteria are for that model and we develop together the rubric that we'll use for grading that, students then become invested in the curriculum in a way that gets them reviewing each other's work really carefully and thoroughly to make sure that they are meeting the demands of the audience, of the situation, of the purpose for the writing, and of the genre in general.  But they've been invested in that because they've understood it from the inside out.


    Lindemann: Once I've asked the groups to take on a task, the teacher needs to step back and let the groups do the work.  I monitor, however--it's not a free period for me--first by making a pass through the entire class to see that everyone has the materials, that there isn't some confusion that I could clear up about what people are to do.  But then I leave the groups alone.  I lurk.  I eavesdrop.  I read over people's shoulders if it's a writing kind of thing that they're doing. And I collect information.


    Rose: What is really gratifying is this experience, that happens again and again and again, where a student reads her or his piece out loud, and it could be on something as humdrum as a research design.  But they hear their prose, they hear their prose, they're not just reading it, they're hearing it.  And in the hearing, it's amazing to me how often they come to these stunning kinds of insights about the assumptions they're making or the potential flaws in the design that they've set up, or a direction that they could have gone in that they didn't. And I think just some of these simple actions end up being so powerful and lead again and again to these moments with students that make this business worthwhile.


    Lindemann: After the work has finished, then it's sort of my turn to comment on what I've seen.  And the teacher's role there has to do with trying to use the observations from monitoring to help the class understand what it has done well, where it might have worked more effectively, and to allow for dissent.  Group work is by nature a kind of consensus-building activity, but students who have things outside of that consensus to say need a space to say it.