Small Group Work

by Justin Miera

Team Work

The second area of study, for "Student Directed Content Application," is small group work. In the first area, student initiation, William Glasser's work was explored to find ways to inspire self directed learners. One of Glasser's main ideas was to help students find power through their school work and thereby become inspired to learn. Once the students have a desire to explore and study then the next goal is to give them tools to succeed in that venture. Facilitating small group skills is a very powerful way to help students guide themselves.

It is also a great way to get beyond trivia knowledge and develop critical thinking skills. Glasser believes that students crave long term assignments that build on the work of the previous day, challenge us to discuss our insights, and allow us to defend our positions. He claims, on page 78, that college courses allow us this opportunity, in a quarter of the classroom contact time, compared to traditional secondary schools.

Glasser contends that students find a great deal of relevance and power through their peer interactions. When students are given the opportunity to combine study with friendship they truly thrive. One reason for this is the team work and camaraderie that come from friendly interactions. Glasser uses basketball as an allegory for this concept. He observes:

Weak players do not relax and let the better players carry them, and the better players do not resent the fact that the weaker ones are not as good as they are. In fact they tend to encourage and help them. And when a weak player finally gets to play and scores not only is his contribution cheered, but his points are as much a part of the final score as anyone else's. On a well-coached team, all players experience not only power but also a strong sense of belonging, and it would not be amiss to say that there is love for both each other and the coach (Glasser, 1986, p. 74-5).

Glasser expands on the need for teams with eight reasons: (1) Teaming provides a sense of belonging, (2) belonging provides the initial motivation to work; (3) Stronger students are fulfilled by helping the weaker ones; (4) Weaker students find that their contributions help the team; (5) Students do not depend solely on the teacher, but develop self reliance; (6) Teams allow students in depth discussion and exploration of a subject; (7) Teams have the freedom to demonstrate their abilities and learning in a unique format; (8) When teams are rotated then stronger students contribute to everyone's success while maintaining their own high achievement.

Glasser does not discount the role of the teacher in this teaming experience. He often alludes to teachers as modern managers. Not traditional managers that direct, reward and punish their workers. Not managers that are looking to consolidate power. Rather, managers that structure a satisfying work environment and are willing to share power. He uses Gordon McGovern of the Campbell Soup Co. as a model. Touting his restructuring success, McGovern said, "We had to get the company fractured up into small businesses, put people in charge and tell them to get busy" (p. 92).

Team Models

Robert Slavin has done extensive research on cooperative learning, and has developed many team teaching methods. Slavin breaks teaming into two basic categories, group study and task specialization. Group study is a way in which students work together to understand and apply information, and then demonstrate the information through individual testing. Task specialization takes place when teams divide up the studying to be done. Slavin subdivides these two categories according to whether group rewards are given based on individual member's learning.

In the category of group study there are many examples of teaming. Several of these were developed by Slavin in collaboration with others. Some of the methods include Student Team Learning, Student Teaming-Achievement Divisions (STAD), Teams-Games-Tournaments, and Team Assisted Individualization. In all these methods, groups study a problem together and then demonstrate their knowledge through individual worksheets or tests. Some of the variations come in the form of how the evaluations are weighted. Some have group competition, others equal opportunity scoring. All have an individual reward system, like grades, built in.

One group study that did not use a reward system was called Learning Together, under the direction of David and Roger Johnson. Teams of four to five heterogeneous students, grouped by the teacher, worked on assignment sheets. This system was evaluated on how well the groups worked together; weather they used competition or cooperation to get their results.

Jigsaw was a method developed by E. Aronson and categorized as task specialization. It used a reward system. Students are broken up, by the teacher, into six member teams. Each student is assigned to study a sub topic of an academic concept. Members of different teams, but the same sub topic, meet in so called expert groups and compare notes. These experts then return to their original team and teach the material. Students are then quizzed and graded individually.

There is a method of task specialization that does not use specific group rewards. It is called Group-Investigation and was developed and implemented in Israel by Shlomo Sharan and his colleagues. Students break themselves into groups of two-six members. The groups choose sub topics taken from classroom study. The groups members decide on separate tasks necessary to develop their group report. The report is then presented to the entire class in any way the group chooses (e.g. skit, lecture, visual aids). The group is evaluated on the quality of the report.


Slavin quantified the effectiveness of 41 studies based on these four categories: (a) group study with rewards based on member learning, (b) group study with no rewards, (c) task specialization with rewards based on member learning, and (d) task specialization with no member learning rewards. The combined 41 studies showed that cooperative learning methods had a positive effect 63% of the time, no effect 34% of the time, and a negative effect 2% if the time in comparison to traditional teaching method control groups. Slavin evaluated the four sub categories in a similar statistical way. Group study with rewards used 25 method studies and ranked positive 88%, no effect 12%, and negative 0%. Group study with no reward used 9 method studies and ranked positive 0%, no effect 89%, and negative 11%. Task specialization with reward used one study and ranked 100% positive. Task specialization with no reward used 6 studies and ranked positive 50%, no effect 50%.

Unfortunately, the mass ranking of effectiveness masked the possibilities of certain individual studies. As demonstrated through his own emphasis, Slavin prefers group work with rewards based on member learning. Therefore, a great deal of in depth analysis was given to his projects, especially STAD and his modification of Jigsaw, Jigsaw II. Still, there was enough information to provide a superficial understanding of some other studies, like Group Investigation.


Overall, these cooperative learning methods do provide many opportunities for teachers to become better managers; facilitators who provide students with environments that contain inspiration and relevance. Teaming with their friends provides students the power and joy. With these needs fulfilled, learning becomes important. It is up to teachers to find the method that best suits their personality, and the disposition of their students. By experimenting with these various ideas each teacher, classroom, and community will find the most profound way to impact each other, and thereby improve learning for all of us.


Glasser M.D., William (1986). Choice theory in the classroom. New York: Harper & Row.

Slavin, Robert E. (1983). Cooperative learning. New York: Longman Inc.

A review of literature in partial fulfillment of the course Student Directed Content Application, MLS 654 I, Course Consultant is Mona Gardner, Ph.D., REGIS UNIVERSITY, March 16, 1999.

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