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Tips For Students When Forming Learning Teams: How to Collaborate With Peers to Improve Your

Academic Performance
Joseph b. Cuseo

Research has shown that college students learn as much, or more from peers than they do from instructors
and textbooks. As depicted in the movie Paper Chase, students working effectively in a supporting group
can be a very powerful way to improve academic achievement and satisfaction with the learning
experience. Recent interviews with college students at Harvard University revealed that nearly every senior
who had been part of a study group considered this experience crucial to academic progress and success.
However, not all learning groups are equally effective. Sometimes group work is unsuccessful or fails to
reach its full potential because no thought was given to how groups should be formed or how they should
function. The following suggestions are offered as strategies for students to use in developing high-quality
learning teams which maximize the power of peer collaboration.

Guidelines for Students When Forming Study Teams

1. When forming teams, seek peers who will contribute quality and diversity to the learning
experience.
Chose your teammates wisely. Look for fellow students who are motivated, such as those
who attend class regularly, who are attentive and participate actively while in class, and who
complete class assignments.
Secondly, don’t team up only with peers who are similar to you or with whom you are
familiar. Include teammates from different ethnic, racial, or cultural backgrounds, different age
groups, or different personality characteristics. This variety can serve to bring different life
experiences, styles of thinking, and learning strategies to your team which can increase both its
quality and versatility.
Furthermore, choosing only your friends or classmates who have similar interest and
lifestyles as you do, can often result in a learning group that is more likely to get “off track” and
on to topics that have nothing to do with the learning task (e.g. , discussions about last Saturday
night’s party or next Saturday night’s party.

2. Keep you group size small (3-6 teammates)


Smaller groups allow for more face-to-face interaction and eye contact and less opportunity for
any one individual to hide and shirk his responsibility to the team. Also, it’s much easier for small
groups to get together outside of class because there are fewer class and work schedules to
coordinate.
When deciding on how many members to include in your group, you might also consider
choosing an even number of teammates (4 or 6) so you can work in pairs in case the team decides
to divide its work into separate parts for different members to work on.

3. Remember that learning teams are more than study groups.


Many students think that collaborative learning simply means study groups that meet the night
before major exams. However, effective student-learning teams collaborate regularly for other
academic tasks, such as those listed below.

Note-taking teams
You can team up with other students immediately after class has ended to compare and share
notes. Listening and note-taking are demanding tasks so it often happens that one of your
teammates may have picked up something you missed or vice versa. Also, by teaming up
immediately after class, your group may still have the opportunity to consult with the instructor
about any missing or confusing information before she leaves the classroom.
Research has shown that instructors’ lecture notes are the most common source from which test
questions are drawn, and it has been found that students with more accurate and complete class
notes tend to receive higher test grades. You might also want to sit in the front of the class and
team up with other students who are sitting in the same area because studies indicate that students
who sit in the front of class (especially front and center) tend to get higher course grades.
Reading Teams
You can team up with other students after completing reading assignments to compare your
highlighting and margin notes. Also, you can see if you all agree on what were the major points
made by the author(s), and what information in the chapter should be studied for exams.

Team- Instructor Conferences

Having your learning team visit the course instructor during office hours to seek additional
assistance in preparing for exams and completing assignments is an effective team-learning
strategy for a few reasons: (a) If you are a shy or unassertive student, it may be less intimidating to
see an instructor on his own “turf” in the company of other students than it is to invade this foreign
territory on your own. (b) The feedback you receive from the instructor is also received by your
teammates, so useful pieces of information are less likely to be missed, misinterpreted, or
forgotten.
c) You save the instructor time by allowing her to help a number of students at one time rather
than have her engage in “repeat performances” for individual students at different times. Your
team visit also sends a message to the instructor that you are serious about learning because
you’ve taken the time and effort to work with your peers prior to the office visit.

Team Test – Results Review

After receiving test results, learning teams can review their individual tests to help
everyone identify the source of their mistakes and to identify any model answers that received
maximum credit. This way you can get a much clearer idea about what the instructor actually
expects from you, and you can use this information as feedback to fine-tune and improve your
performance on subsequent tests or assignments.

4. Hold all team members personally responsible for their own learning and for contributing to the
learning of their teammates.
Research at Harvard University indicates that study groups are effective only if each member
has done required course work in advance of the group meeting (e.g. , completed required
readings and other course assignments).
One way to ensure that this happens is to have all members come to group meetings prepared
with specific information or answers to share with teammates, and any questions they have or
points of confusion they need explained.
Another way to ensure that each teammate carries his load is to have individual members take
on different roles or responsibilities. For example, each member may assume special responsibility
for mastering a particular topic, section, or skill which she will teach to her teammates.
This course may be the perfect place for you to form learning teams to start putting these
principles of good teamwork into practice. The teamwork skills you build in this course can then
be applied to your future courses, particularly those which you find most difficult. Furthermore,
becoming an effective team learner should not only increase your success in college, it should also
enhance your career. National surveys of employers of college students consistently show that
being able to work effectively in teams is one of the most important and valued skills in today’s
work world.