As I mentioned in my first blog, I had to reshuffle the groups largely based upon a comment made by one very high achieving senior male student who half heartedly complained after the first SLD that he had been looking forward to the discussions but was disappointed because he felt that all of his group members were too similar in their opinions. I reexamined the groupings and discovered that inadvertently I had put all of the environmentally oriented senior class students in the same group. The group dynamics were not bad, in fact they all got along famously, but for this student, that made the discussion less valuable.
I reshuffled the groups by a small but strategic amount and this seemed to make all of the difference. At the end of the second discussion, when I asked the class if we should stay with the same groups for the third discussion, I was met with a resounding “yes”. Thereafter, groups seemed to bond and I witnessed lively but civil discussions by all three groups.
My original groupings were based upon research project groups. The students had chosen which project and/or group they would work in, so I used the same groups for the first discussion. However, I learned that what draws people together to work on a project are not necessarily the same factors that produce an enlightening and rich exchange among individuals. Drawing from this lesson, in the future I might assign students to groups (rather than allowing students to self select), although I think it is difficult to strategically group people together until you know each student. Therefore, I will also be prepared to reshuffle groups again, because no matter how hard you try, it’s difficult to get it right the first time.