Forming Effective TBL Teams

Initial Publication Date: September 18, 2018

Effective team formation in TBL is based on the following conditions:

  • TBL teams need to be balanced and diverse (teams should include a mix of student strengths, backgrounds, and experiences)
  • TBL teams need to be selected by the instructor (this is a critical, but often overlooked point)
  • TBL teams need to be large (typically 5-7 students)
  • TBL teams need to be permanent

How to Form Teams

A key issue for TBL instructors is selecting balanced and diverse teams in a way that is perceived by students as being fair. Instructors can employ a variety of methods to accomplish this task.

One simple method is to have students line up in a row around the classroom based on one or more criteria relevant to the "balanced and "diverse" condition listed above and have them number off according to the number of teams your class size will permit.

Jim Sibley provides a variety of examples of how to form effective TBL teams, including sample questions to sort students, a video illustrating the process, and frequently asked questions.

Some Tips for Success:
  • Create teams publicly in the classroom to build student trust.
  • Be transparent about the way that you are forming teams - explain the process and the reasons for it.
  • Some instructors do not form teams immediately after the course starts in order to take into account early attrition and to learn about students. In this method instructors can create teams more likely to be diverse by skill level, ethnicity, gender or other criteria.
  • When possible women or minority groups should not be the only representative of that group on a team. Doing so can lead to stereotype threat [add citations]

Intentionally Building Effective Team Skills

It takes time for students in permanent groups to develop the necessary skills for working effectively as a group. To promote the development of students' teamwork skills, it is useful to include one or more activities early in the course directly focused on this outcome. One approach to building team skill development is to assign a reading, TED talk, and/or podcast on the subject in the second or third week of the semester – once students have had some experience working in a team - and then have teams work in class to develop ground rules for working together as a team.

Student Accountability for Team Learning

Student accountability for team performance is developed through both formative and summative peer evaluations that ask students to assess their teammates' contribution to the team's performance in the class.

Formative Assessment

One or several times during the semester, students should have the opportunity to provide each other formative feedback on their performance as team members. Each student provides each team member comments and, perhaps, a numerical rating of some form on various aspects of performance as a team member (but NOT on knowledge of the subject matter under study). Students have the remainder of the semester to improve their work on the team, if necessary, based on peer feedback.

Summative Assessment

At the end of the semester, student assign numerical ratings to team members that can count toward the final grade. For example, tRAP and AE components of the final grade can be inflated or deflated based on team members' ratings.

Jim Sibley provides additional useful information on developing a peer evaluation plan as part of his Step by Step Guide to Building a TBL Course.