Forming Effective Groups

One of the best ideas I have found for how to form groups that work effectively comes from Professor Molly Lindner, of Kent State University. The article from which this comes can be found here. She suggests using the metaphor of a quintet (or a trio). She starts off by telling the students “about the qualities of a variety of musical instruments and the roles they play in producing the whole composition. Each instrument makes vital contributions; none is more important than any other. However, each has distinctive characteristics.”

She then gives the class a handout in which each instrument and their characteristics are listed, and asks them to mark the one that they are most of the time, as well as the one they are like some of the time.

The students hand in the completed questionnaire. My version of this document can be found here. The teacher then looks them over and forms the group, ensuring that each group has one of each instrument and never more than one “lead instrument”.

At the same time that I give students the instrument form, I also give them a schedule sheet on which they indicate their availability for group work.

Armed with that information, I first form groups by instrument, then look at the availability factor to tweak them. That way, students are temperamentally suited to work together well, and there are no excuses for why members can’t meet.

While no method of group formation can ensure that every group works perfectly, this method has proven itself to be very effective in my classes, and students seem to love it.

This entry was posted in Best Practices, Teaching Practice, Working in Groups and tagged by Jane Alden Stevens. Bookmark the permalink.

About Jane Alden Stevens

Jane Alden Stevens is a photographer and educator who is Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts at the University of Cincinnati. An active artist, Stevens has exhibited and published her work extensively both in the US and abroad. She is the author of “Tears of Stone: World War I Remembered” (2004). In the course of her teaching career, Stevens taught courses in film, photography, and professional practices for fine artists. Her interest in teaching practices was deepened when she started teaching the "Graduate Teaching Workshop", a required graduate level course for fine artists and art historians that prepares them to teach the courses they will later be assigned. She was also involved in the Preparing Future Faculty program at the University of Cincinnati, which prepares masters and doctoral students across all programs for teaching at the university level. She has conducted pedagogy workshops for a variety of universities, as well as participated in academic practicum panels at educational conferences. The recipient of numerous teaching awards, Stevens was honored with the all-university Cohen Award for Excellence in University Teaching at the University of Cincinnati in 2002 and Professor of the Year honors in her college in 2011.

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