Monday, August 8, 2016

#MTBoSBlaugust Day 6: Scaffolding Student Study Group

One idea I've been tweaking for years and never quite been able to get off the ground is taking an active role in scaffolding student study groups. As most people who've experienced a truly challenging college course can tell you, collaboration is often the key to success. It's the definition of the word synergy...
I'm thinking of piloting a form of this with my AP class this year for a few reasons:
  1. Many of these students are college bound & could benefit from seeing beneficial collaboration in action
  2. The skills needed to be a successful member of a study group aren't always in line with the social goals of being in a study group and it's better to learn these lessons early
  3. There is often nothing better for someone struggling than to learn from another student or (even better) have to explain to another student
This is a group norms contract that I drafted a few years ago (read: that I spliced together from lots of other wonderful sources and thinkers- feel free to claim some credit if you were one of them. I honestly made don't remember my exact inspirations). I meant to to use it with my blended learning class to build online study groups for message boards and group discussions. It didn't pan out as we had some trouble with our learning management system, but this is what I'd like to use to get my kids started. 

Here are my ideas:
  • Day 1: Give kids a questionnaire to identify with whom they work well in the class (emphasis on that these may not be the same people with whom they hang out on Saturday nights). Teacher forms groups based on these answers and class observation. 
  • Day 2: Give students a group task with pre-assigned groups to see how they function and re-assess. Tweak members if needed. 
  • Day 3: Ask students to think about their individual strengths and areas for growth in group work (to be prepared for a classroom discussion the next day, where they'll be filling out this chart from the document)
  • Day 4: Share specific expectations about study groups with student, including having time to collaborate in class on various tasks, online discussions of homework problems and content, responsibilities for review tasks to their group and the class as a whole, and a judgement free zone where you can discuss content freely and help each other. Then, have students work together to fill out the group norms contract. As groups are working, teacher would have time to meet with each group to make sure they are clear on expectations. 
I need to come up a more specific layout of group tasks and responsibilities, but finding this old contract lying in my forms has gotten my wheels turning. Last year I saw the kids in AP who formed study groups thrive and the kids who didn't struggle alone, often trying to break into an established study group before it was too late. I am hoping to build that "math family" from early in the year so students always believe they have a team helping them succeed. 

Has anyone done this with wild success or wild failure? Anything you've learned from working in study groups yourself? Share, critique, and brainstorm! 


  1. Tried to do this last year but didn't scaffold enough. Love your ideas!

  2. Tried to do this last year but didn't scaffold enough. Love your ideas!

  3. Strong Post! Thanks for sharing.

    The questionnaire is a great idea. I also try to get AP students to work in groups and see the value of group study. Initially, groups are randomly assigned.

    How dies the questionnaire help you assign groups? Do you make groups of similar performing students/students with similar learning styles together or heterogeneous groups?

    1. I had just originally thought about the questionnaire as a way to have students list who they work well with in the class, but I like the idea of taking it further and using it to find out more about my students early on. I'm apprehensive to group by similar performance or similar learning styles because I want students to benefit from different viewpoints and strengths in their group as much as possible. My thoughts are, at least at first, I'm going to trust the kids to know who they work well with and then tweak from there (hence the multi-day process for assigning them). This is still new for me, so I'm still working out the kinks!