Many years ago I had an argument with a person I was working with.  At one point during our ‘discussion’ the person yelled “How should I know that, I’m not a mind reader!” At that point I realised that neither of us were mind readers, and that both of us were operating on expectations that had not been shared.  I also realised that simple misunderstandings arising from unstated expectations can escalate into much bigger issues leading to conflict.

Using this experience to help students

When I wrote the Enhancing the Experiences of Group Work resource kit, I made sure that an expectations-setting exercise was included in the unit Getting Groups Started.  It was a simple exercise that gave students the opportunity to share their expectations in the early stages of their group project.

When I returned to UTS in 2012 I was delighted to see my charter exercise still being used.  I was even more delighted to use it myself when I tutored down in the UTS Business School in the subject Integrating Business Perspectives (IBP).  Someone had made it into a one pager, which actually worked well. It was shorter and didn’t take as much time as my original design. I continue to use a modified version of this one-pager today. It covers all the things that students should be talking about (e.g., when and where they will meet, what are they aiming to achieve).

The importance of helping student groups

The charter exercise gives students the opportunity to set expectations and develop group norms.  Student groups are self-managing and are comprised of individuals of equal status, which often makes it difficult for groups to enter into early norm setting discussions.  The charter exercise provides a good platform to enable these important discussions to happen.  All you need to do is give the charter sheet to each group and assign around 10 minutes for them to collectively complete it.  I have always found that students appreciate the opportunity given to them to set some expectations.

Helping students to help themselves

If you are assigning students to work in groups for an assessment task, I encourage you to try the charter exercise.  The sheet to give to students is available below.  It’s in word, so you can change whatever you like. In terms of some recommended steps:

  1. Tell students how important it is for them to set some norms in their groups (as they are not mind readers).
  2. Give one sheet per group and give them ~10 minutes to complete it.
  3. Collect completed sheets from groups and file them.
  4. Give the completed charters back to the groups at a later point to revisit (around the mid-point of the group project).

Step 4 is optional, but I highly recommend you do this.  It’s important for students to be reminded of their original agreements (and to adjust if necessary).

Click here to view/download the charter template.


Photo by Shwetha Shankar on Unsplash


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