Defining Individual Roles in Collaborative Work

We held a team Poetry Slam this year in my grade 5 class. It was creative, competitive, productive, and engaging. Every student impressed me in some way.

In organizing the Slam, I assigned group members specific titles and roles, something I’d only briefly experimented with in the past. Each group had a Director, Creative Visionary, Manager, Performer, and Worker Bee.

Students were allowed to choose their role. Directors chose teams, the way we sometimes use “team captains” in picking sports teams. (I tried to avoid problem of one kid being chosen last by randomly assigning the Worker Bees.) Allowing for student voice in this setup is key.

What were thebenefits of using this kind of structure?

  1. Comfort and Safety. With defined roles, not every student is responsible for talking in front of the whole class. This is a terrifying experience for some kids. There are many ways to contribute to a group performance that don’t involve performing.
  2. Leaders get to lead. Collaboration can sometimes be difficult for stronger students, who may feel that their ideas get watered down in equal partnership group arrangements. Students with the role of Director got to make the final decisions.
  3. Playing to their strengths. An issue I’ve sometimes faced with group work is that the leader types tend to insist that everyone contribute an equal number of ideas and have a say in everything being done. This is unproductive and puts unnecessary stress on students to think on the spot. Roles like Worker Bee and Performer ensures that everyone contributes in some way, while alleviating the pressure for everyone to share all the work equally.

Assessment was easier than you might think. I observed the students in the groups, had them complete self and peer evaluations based on their specific roles and assessed the Poetry slam using student-generated success criteria. Everyone in each group got the same mark and no one complained.

One concern I had coming out of the project was that students would get too comfy with certain roles and not branch out, so I was pleasantly surprised when I was easily able to select five new Directors for our recent social studies project.

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