Assigning Group Projects

Challenge

You are planning to use group projects in your course and you're wondering how to best organize the groups since you have 40 students, and four are deaf.  Each of the ten groups will have four members, and will work together both during and outside of class.

Two of the deaf students rely on an interpreter but the other two are hard-of-hearing and do not sign. You are thinking of keeping the Deaf/HH students together in one group to make communication easier, especially outside of the classroom.  After assigning the groups, a student approaches you and asks to be moved to a hearing group.  He explains that he would like to work with hearing students, since he will be facing that in the work environment.  What should you do?

Ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Are communication rules established? If not, who should be responsible for this?
  2. Should multiple D/HH students be grouped together or not?
  3. Are there benefits to all students working together in groups?
  4. If there is only one interpreter/captionist/notetaker there with Deaf/HH students in multiple groups, how would communications issues be resolved?

Strategies

Consider communication goals when assigning group work or project teams. Are you focusing on problem-solving, or do you want students to learn to work as a team?

How many Deaf/HH students are in your class and how do they communicate? If access services are available, can you get more services for that particular class? Can you ask for students in your class to take notes? How can you encourage all students to work together so that communication is effective?

 Clearly, there is no single strategy that applies to all situations. We offer this list of suggestions:

  • You are a model for your students. If you are open in your interactions with Deaf/HH students, hearing students will follow your lead. But if you are hesitant or avoid interaction with such students, hearing students will notice.
  • Plan ahead. If you want groups to include all students, then for communication to be effective you may need to request additional interpreters/captionists in advance.
  • Ask Deaf/HH students for their preferences regarding group organization and their access needs.
  • Make your expectations clear to all students. If you place all students in workgroups together, tell them you expect them to take equal responsibility for effective communication.
  • Provide handouts with guidelines for group communication, including rules about: maintaining line of sight between speakers; turn-taking; and identifying the speaker  to orient Deaf/HH students. A sample handout is provided.
  • Give students a ball to pass around; the rule is that only the person holding the ball can speak.
  • Encourage students: to use paper and pencil (or laptops/tablets) to write back and forth; to repeat comments; to allow one person to speak at a time; or to write on flipcharts with markers.
  • For groups that meet outside class, remind students to schedule meetings with lead time for scheduling of interpreting/captioning services.
  • If learning to manage communication is part of the group activity, inform students that they will be evaluated on their effort to communicate with one another.
  • If you provide instructions, write directions on the blackboard. Announce that you will post directions during group work, so students know to periodically check the board for new information.

 We suggest you mix all students when:

  • Your goal is for students to learn about teamwork. There are benefits to having all students work together (even without an interpreter/captionist), because learning how to communicate with one another and function effectively together teaches diversity and teamwork.
  • You want to create teams with a balance of skills and perspectives.

 

   
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