Facilitating and Monitoring Group Work

This page helps you support and manage your class as they perform their group work tasks, and ensure that the workload doesn't overwhelm you.

With group work in the classroom your role is to facilitate the learning process. To do this, you:

  • develop an activity, task or project
  • prepare students for the group task
  • give students strategies to manage their groups effectively (including telling them how to deal with issues in groups)
  • obtain feedback and monitor the progress of groups as they work through the task
  • make sure students have opportunities to reflect on the processes and products of group work.

Even when you clarify the group task and your expectations, groups and individuals often need continuing guidance as they move through the task, encounter challenges and approach assessment. Guidance may take the form of general information for the whole class (strategies for group meetings, guidelines for preparing written reports etc.), or it may be specific to the needs of a particular group. To check whether you are doing everything necessary for your class groups, use the following checklist.

Checklist for managing and supporting groups

I have made the learning outcomes for the group task clear to students.

I have decided how students will be assigned to teams.

I have clearly outlined the group task (its purpose and structure) to students.

I have asked students about their prior experience of group work.

I have allocated class time for team processes, so that I can monitor them.

I have worked out how I will get regular feedback from groups about their progress.

I have created opportunities for groups to reflect on their performance in groups.

I have given students strategies for dealing with challenges and issues in groups.

I have discussed the assessment criteria (and weightings) with students.

Monitoring groups - how are they functioning?

You can inform  how your groups are working through informal conversations, or by measuring their performance against criteria. Are members contributing equally? Are they listening to each other? Is the group using effective planning processes? With this information, you can help groups function more effectively.

The following table suggests some ways in which you can monitor and support your groups.

Supporting and monitoring group progress
Circulate Circulate among the groups, listening, asking questions and
evaluating students’ understanding of concepts and tasks. This can give you a sense of the group’s progress, and steer them back to the task if they have strayed.
Sit in on group
meetings

In addition to asking questions, when you sit in on group meetings you can: help to involve quiet students, draw on students’ particular strengths and interests, invite students to ask questions to clarify any aspect of the group task or ask students about processes they are using to help plan their activities and manage their group.

Before moving on to the next group, give the group some feedback on how you think they are progressing, including what you think they are doing well. If there are any particular issues that you think need resolving, raise them with the group and invite students to suggest possible solutions.

Actively attend to
groups
Active attention from you as facilitator emphasises to students that the group task is important and can help them make connections between the group task and other parts of the course.
Sit in on groups who
are having difficulties

You may need to devote extra time to groups you perceive as having difficulties. Strategies include helping groups to articulate particular issues they are experiencing and helping students to practise constructive feedback and reflective listening.

Simulating problem solving, encouraging the involvement of all members of the group and asking team members to review their group rules and processes can also be useful. If you feel that students may not be able to resolve issues on their own, you might like to make specific suggestions as to how they can find assistance.

Gather information
that might be useful
for the whole class
Information gleaned from monitoring groups can be incorporated or expanded on in class. For example you might like to begin a lecture by summarising progress observed in teams, suggesting alternatives to group processes, correcting any misconceptions you have observed, or highlighting unresolved questions that have been raised in groups.
Begin monitoring
groups early
In addition to deciding how you will monitor groups, you will need to give some thought to when and how often you will monitor groups. Monitoring the progress of groups early helps students to build confidence and make progress, and avoids a situation where it is too late to resolve certain issues before the project deadline.
Suggest resources Suggest particular resources that you think might be useful to groups. These might include: ideas, contacts, references (articles, journals, online resources) or logistical support.

For more information on helping students to deal with issues in groups, see Developing Students' Group Work Skills.

For information on assessing group processes, see Assessing Group Work.

How can I reduce the workload?

To cut down on the workload associated with developing, implementing and assessing group tasks:

  1. Avoid reinventing the wheel.
    Adapt resources such as guidelines and tools for group work rather than developing them from scratch. Draw on strategies and materials that your colleagues are using.
  2. Design assessment tasks and feedback strategies carefully.
    Group assignments can result in fewer assignments for you to mark. But the assessment of group process is also important, and this often requires an assessment of individual members of the group—see Assessing Group Work for more information on assessing the process and products of group work.
  3. Help students plan and manage their groups effectively.
    Taking the time to help students develop strategies for resolving issues in groups can significantly reduce the number of requests you receive for help—for example, students who have been provided with a checklist to identify problems and solutions may not need to seek further help. Similarly, students who have been given advice on how to write an action plan, create job lists, conduct meetings and so on are less likely to need help in these areas.
  4. Use technology.
    Use an online discussion board so that students can answer each other's questions about the group task or group processes, or so that you can provide answers to frequently asked questions. A Moodle course can also be used to collect and summarise data using, for example, the Choice or Survey tools. This saves a considerable amount of time and energy, particularly if your class is very large.