At a recent faculty workshop, one participant commented that she was dissatisfied with her ability to hold students accountable for group work in class. She wondered if there might be a way to improve upon student reporting after group work that would also serve as professional development and career prep.
This struck me as an excellent way to provide students with practice in the written & verbal communication skills that employers say they want in new hires while also gaining experience with short, low stakes presentations.
I do this in one of two ways:
Verbal communication through group reports.
At the conclusion of group work, one member stands and gives a brief report. It must be polished & prepared. At first, students will stand and then begin preparation with a lot of pauses, ums, uhs, consultations of notes–in short, take up a lot of time to provide a report that is not very fluent, smooth, or polished.
After one or two negative examples, I will stop the reporting, give each group 30-60 seconds to prepare a presentation; I explicitly say that I want this practiced, polished & prepared.
After the allotted time, we begin again and quickly move around the room with presenters standing and delivering exactly what I require. The audience appreciates the difference!
Recently, my Spanish 2 students had begun studying the preterit. I deployed the above reporting techniques after the typical “ask each other what you did last weekend” activity from the textbook.
Reporting students had to stand and name one thing they had in common with their partner and one difference. After the early false start, everyone reporting was able to give a fluent report along the lines of, “Rebecca and I studied. She cleaned her apartment, but I went out with friends“–and all the reporting took less than 2 minutes because of the high level of preparation!
I take a moment to reiterate that they have just engaged in formal presentations–very brief, but exactly the kind you always have to be ready to do at networking events, job fairs and interviews. And no matter when or where, no matter how long or short–all presentations should be practiced, prepared & polished.
If you establish this standard of verbal communication to report back after group work early in your course, students will automatically prepare appropriately after 2 or 3 reminders.
1) If you have always conducted your classes this way and your students are always planning ahead so that they are indeed prepared and polished when presenting to the whole class, kudos to you! It’s how we should be running our classrooms. I wish I had been doing this all along because students find my feedback “harsh” now that I’m enforcing this.
2) If you think it’s obvious to students that they should do this–especially when they can see the pattern and should know when to expect to be “on the spot” and therefore prepare ahead of that moment, know that very few people are willing to take the social risk of being that student. If you make it the standard for all students, then it will be normalized and everyone will be able to do it well.
Written communication through memos.
To develop written communication skills, have groups report back to the whole class using memos–this can be a bulleted list sent as a screenshot or posted on a smart room screen. Again, these can be very short–for example, a single clause that summarizes the results of an in-class activity. The same example of “what you did last weekend” from above works here–but students have to submit written sentences along the lines of:
- Rebecca and I studied.
- She cleaned her apartment.
- I went out with friends.
It’s always important to be explicit with students about their professional skills development so be sure to explicitly draw the connection between the above activity and professional memo writing. The two thing have a lot in common: summarizing relatively large amounts of content in clear, concise and accurate bullet points. You wouldn’t put bad grammar or spelling in a memo at work; don’t do it in this brief form either!
Darcy Lear is a career coach specializing in academic writing, job search documents, professional school applications, and interview preparation. To schedule a campus workshop or for help navigating your career transition, contact Darcy: firstname.lastname@example.org