One assignment I give to students is a group project that has an end result of a presentation to the whole class.  Last week, as part of the preparation for this assignment, I did a puzzle activity.

The point of this activity is to encourage students to gain insight on how they function in groups – what role they play, how they interact with others, etc.  You can also have them relate this to life in general – do they always take the role of leader, charge in, observe, etc.  I set it up giving no instructions other than asking for leaders (I had 6 puzzles, 46 students), and for them to form groups of 7 or 8 people. 

Six leaders immediately volunteered and the process began.  After all but one group completed the puzzle I had them write personal reactions to the experience in their journals – what role did you play, what was your behavior, how did you respond to the behaviors of others, how did this make you feel, and how were your behavior and feelings similar or different to past experiences working in groups?

I then asked for verbal sharing from those who wanted to.  Students reported very positive experiences and seemed to make connections, which made me excited.  I wanted to shout, “Yeah, it worked.” I couldn’t wait to get home to read their journals.

What I discovered in their journals:

All students but one seemed to learn something about themselves or gain some insight into their behavior in groups.  The one exception has a resigned attitude: “In almost every class there is group work, so I just do it.” Leaders change within the group during the process and that was accepted by group members.  However, no one mentioned that this could also be true in a “real” group situation.  No connection was made on this one.

Most students were very aware of the behaviors of others in the group, but didn’t know how or were unwilling to respond or take action.  For example, every group had at least one observer. Most people said that there is always one person who doesn’t contribute. I would like to guide them to discovering, for instance, that some people are observers, but may still be contributing and that those who appear to be observers may need encouragement to join in.  I think my biggest surprise in this experience was that everyone just let the observers observe, or be non-participants.   One student never really became a part of any group.  She sat several feet away from a group and observed.  I felt bad for her and debated whether or not to try to get her into a group, but decided  not to interfere in any way.  I still feel a little guilty about this.  I wanted to “fix” it.

I am very excited about this process and would recommend the puzzle activity to all of you.  One caution –  it took longer than I thought.  This is a 3-hour class and I took the last hour for this activity.  I think it would have been better to do it the first hour, with some follow up activities immediately.

–Antoinette Phillips, Child Development, El Camino College, CA

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