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Article review

Title : Getting Started: Informal Small-Group Strategies in Large Classes

Author : James L. Cooper, Pamela Robinson

This article contains a few good points about collaboration in large size classrooms. Most examples in this article tell us that collaboration studies have been conducted in real classrooms with two hundreds or more students of various subjects. An instructor would ask a question or provide a problem to the class, and the students (mostly with their nearest neighbors) have informal discussions and sometimes report their results. This type of collaboration does not need significant time to form a group, the instructor does not have to be concerned with grading, and the instructor (and TA ) can evaluate the level of understanding of his students for the materials that were presented to them.

Examples of informal small group collaboration in a large classroom

(1) think-pair-share approach : the instructor discusses a question or problem, and individual students have a few minutes to think about the topic. After a few minutes, students form small groups and discuss it further.

(2) minute paper : the instructor may ask question(s) at the end of class, and students have a few minutes to answer them. (i.e.> the most important (and/or unclear) thing you learned during class)

(3) concept maps : the instructor may display or construct a concept map that shows interrelated important concepts.

Applications of informal small group collaboration in large classroom

(1) Launching in-class discussion : small group discussion at the beginning of class –> increasing motivation and participation during the class

(2) Breaking up the lecture for comprehension checks : short lecture (15 to 30 minutes lectures) and small group discussion –> increasing energy level and sense of involvement (used in graduate research methods class)

(3) Closing class with small group conversation : minute papers –> minimizing paper-shuffling and backpack-filling activities at the end of class

(4) Reviewing for exams : exam review with sample questions –> increasing test performance

(5) Debriefing exams : hand back graded exams in team folders for small group discussions –> decreasing complaints and shortening overall discussion minutes

(6) Deepening audiovisual presentations : activities before and after the presentation –> minimizing sleep or off-task activities

(7) Predicting processes and outcomes of demonstrations : prediction concerning the results of experiments and assess their prediction after –> keeping students focused on the results

One minor note in this article is that small group collaboration does not come naturally for most students. This is because most students have been taught to complete their tasks individually (no cheating).

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