Once in a group, students can’t automatically be expected to know how to work well together. It is therefore critical that the teacher provide information, insight and guidance to groups before their work begins. To that end, I spend an entire class period preparing them.
First, I show them a Powerpoint that outlines the stages that a group goes through from beginning to end. Much of the information comes from the Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing model of group development that was first proposed by Bruce Tuckman.
I then go over the group tasks, policies and procedures that are relevant for the group work I am asking them to do. Here is an example of this document from a class in which the groups were each creating a print-on-demand book. The document clarifies the role of each group member, outlines meeting policies, and talks about what to do if a group member becomes problematic.
Finally, I have the class split into their groups to come up with an agreement about what they expect will happen during the group work process. Each group member signs it, and the agreement gets turned into me. This way, if a group or group member becomes dysfunctional, I can refer to this document to see what they agreed to that isn’t happening.
Thus prepared, the groups are now ready to go to work!