In every group, there are those who pull their weight, those who pull more than their share of the weight and those who pull less.
With group learning so popular in today’s classroom, grading students for group activities is a vexing problem for teachers who are not privy to how the group dynamics are working and for students who resent or feel hampered by other students when the workload is not well-distributed.
In an article published in the Journal of Chemical Education, ThomasJ. Wenzel, a professor of chemistry at Bates College says he asks his college students to give peer assessments and self-assessments on group lab and classroom work.
“I have found through course surveys that the students appreciate the chance to provide such evaluations, especially in the situation in which they have a laboratory partner who is not fulfilling his or her responsibilities on the project,” writes Wenzel.
“The use of peer- and self-evaluations allows me to provide better feedback to the students and to feel more confident in assigning each individual a grade for their contribution to the group laboratory project.”
One approach is to ask group members open-ended questions about group and individual performance:
Group questions include:
- Did everyone in your group contribute to the activity today? If so, explain how; if not, identify what individuals need to do to assure participation by al.
- Did everyone in your group understand the material covered in the activity today? If so, explain how your group assured that everyone understood; if not, identify what your group needs to do to assure that everyone in the group understands the material.
- Identify three things your group could do to work more effectively and efficiently.
- Identify one contribution made by each member of your group to today’s activity,
- What constructive feedback can you give another group member on application of a skill?.
- Develop a short-term plan and a long-term plan to strengthen your team’s performance.
Individual questions include:
- Identify three ways you and the other group members have modified or could
- modify study habits and strategies in order to improve performance on examinations.
- List two strengths and two improvements in reference to yourself in today’s workshop.
- Cite two examples of how you carried out your team responsibility or role.
Wenzel also suggests an alternative approach: Give students a set of specific criteria that they then can evaluate on a numerical scale based on the quality of performance on that specific task, ability or contribution. His sample list includes:
- gathering preliminary background literature;.
- helping to develop and write the project plan.
- undertaking a fair share of the work.
- ability to generate good ideas and solve problems,
- ability to arrive at consensus and overcome difficulties.
- ability to facilitate the group’s efforts;.
- contribution to the final written report; and contribution to the final oral presentation.
Students may be reluctant to criticize peers and may be too generous in their evaluations, Wenzel says. He stresses that the instructor plays a key role in guiding students to improve individual and group performance and in interpreting the peer- and self-evaluations.
“Participation of the instructor in a discussion of the evaluations and repetitive use of peer evaluation as the term progresses improves the quality of the student responses and feedback,” he says.
Students in Wenzel’s college classes are assigned to groups on the second day of class and the groups work together over the entire term. He tries to ensure that the groups are as heterogeneous as possible and spends a substantial portion of the first class describing the assessment processes and communicating his expectations for students working in the groups.
Halfway through the course Wenzel collects assessments to identify groups with problems. When Wenzel discovers that an individual is not pulling his or her share of the weight he meets with the person to discuss expectations for group work and improvements he hopes to see. In almost all cases, this has had the desired outcome, he says.
“Formative assessment of the workings of a group is useful because it will allow the instructor to intervene with groups that are exhibiting dysfunctional behavior,” Wenzel says. “Group learning is more effective when the groups examine their performance to identify what is working well and what needs improvement.”
“Evaluation Tools To Guide Students’ Peer-Assessment and Self-Assessment in Group Activities for the Lab and Classroom,” by Thomas J. Wenzel, Journal of Chemical Education, January 2007, Volume 84, Number 1, pp. 182-186.
Published in ERN February 2008 Volume 21 Number 2