Section 4: Team Building and Group Processing

Team Building

Teamwork is a defining characteristic of cooperative learning. In the cooperative learning classroom, students sit in teams and work with teammates to master and deepen their thinking about the curriculum, create cooperative projects, and plan collaborative presentations.

There are four major types of teams:

  • Heterogeneous. We recommend students spend most of their time in heterogeneous teams. The heteorgeneous team is a mirror of the diversity in the classroom containing males and females, students of different origins, and students at all levels of achievement. Heteorgeneous teams allow peer tutoring, increasing achievement, and allow positive interactions among students of all backgrounds, imporving relations.
  • Random. The team is formed completely by chance. Random teams add excitement and fun to the classroom. We recommend random teams as an occasional break-out from heterogeneous teams. However, random teams are not recommended for long-term stable base teams.
  • Homogeneous. Students on homogeneous teams share the same or similar characteristics. Students can be of the same ability level, or can share similar interests. Homogeneous ability teams give students the opportunity to work with others at their academic level which allows us to differentiate the curricumlum for teams.
  • Student-selected. On an occasional basis, students are allowed to form their own teams. When given the opportunity, students usually select partners and teammates that they know and like. This familiarity can be a big plus for team dynamics. Students having similar interests facilitates team decision making. However, there is also a high potential for off-task behaviour.

Exercise 1. Questions for reflection

  1. On a philosophical level, do you think that heterogeneous teams are more appropriate than homogeneous teams for the classroom? Do you think the opposite? Why?
  2. What kind of class would benefit most from heterogeneous teams? When would random teams and student-selected teams be most useful?
  3. What types of teams will you use in your classroom? How will you use them? For how long?

Heterogeneous teams

As said before, heterogeneous teams are usually the best option in a cooperative learning class. Although it is taking the path of least resistance to let students work with their friends, there are a number of good reasons for heterogeneous teams.

Exercise 2. Pros and cons of heterogeneous teams

The following list contains pros and cons for heterogeneous teams. Classify them in two columns (the pros column and the cons column), and add a couple more statements to each column from your own experience as a CLIL teacher.

  • Students get to know people different from themselves through working toward a common goal.
  • The quality of student work can improve because of the mixture of different perspectives.
  • It requires time for teachers to prepare heterogeneous teams.
  • The more diligent students can provide positive role models.
  • Discipline may improve, because students may be more likely to misbegave if they are with their friends.
  • There is limited contact between the high achievers.
  • The diversity of ideas can increase.
  • Students may develop skills to work with people different from themselves, especially those with whom they would not have chosen to collaborate. These skills are useful beyond school, as we do not often get to choose with whom we work or share a neighbourhood.
  • There is limited leadership opportunities for low achievers.
  • More helping may occur as higher achievers assist lower achievers.
  • It requires ranking and labeling students based on past achievement, and this presupposes future achievements.

The following presentation offers some more ideas to organise heterogeneous teams in a cooperative learning class:

Team Building by joan_alberich

If your browser does not allow to visualize the above presentation, you access it clicking here.

All team formation methods for heterogeneous groups are based on past achievement of learners. One way of doing this consists simply in ranking the students according to their last mark, and putting together the highest, the lowest and the two middle achievers in the same team. The second group is composed of the second-highest, second-lowest, two more from the middle, and so on. More sophisticated methods as the ones shown in the presentation above include the use of templates and cards. Kagan has identified two of these methods:

Monitoring how well students get along in their teams is also relevant to minimize possible sources of conflict. It is good to rotate members of teams at a regular fixed time, which could be between one and two months. Monitoring groups, from a teacher and a learner perspective, can help you to understand the relations established in a class and detect possible incompatibilities for future teambuilding. The following document may help you to do this Monitoring teams.

Group Processing

In the following presentation you will find the principles behind group processing.

Group Processing by joan_alberich

Group Processing is one of the five pillars of cooperative learning, as stated in section one of this module. It allows teams to reflect on their own achievements as a team. Students may not focus on how well they are interacting themselves, nor on how well their teammates are behaving. Students may not let each other know that they are violating important teamwork norms. Or sometimes they do, but are not specific enough to inform teammates of the nature of the violation. Group processing allows students to stop interacting and dedicate focussed time and thought to their own and teammates' use of social skills to provide specific feedback to promote improvement.

There are two main ways to promote Group Processing:

  • Reflection questions. It is the easiest way to promote group processing. The teacher stops a team in its interaction to ask a reflection question designed to have students reflect on social skills. Notice we do not wait until the end of the project to have our students reflect on the skill. Rather, the reflection time should come early in the lesson so that students have time to change their behaviour and benefit from the reflection.
  • Observations. These are linked with assessment and with the role of teacher in a cooperative learning class. The following file, taken from Kagan, contains templates that can help you in your observations for group processing Group processing templates.

Exercise 3. Promoting Group Processing

  • Think of two specific reflection questions you would ask your learners for group processing. These can be for helping, for praising or for staying the group on the task.
  • Share your questions with other CLIL teachers at your school.
  • In this way, your CLIL teacher team will share a bank of reflection questions to promote group processing in your CLIL classes.