Group Work: Why I Don’t Believe In It

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Academics: The Problem with Group Work

Every motivated and/or introverted student has run into it.  You have been making great progress in a class when you right smack into the wall that is group work.  As a credentialed teacher, there is no other teaching strategy that I am so critical of, mainly because I was and am one of the students that is endlessly frustrated by it.

The Intended Benefit of Group Work

I do understand the goals of group work.  At it’s best, it should make students thing more critically about their own work and that of their group’s other participants.  It can create an environment that is ripe for the development and exploration of ideas if the group is well formed.  It can be fun.  The most fun group project I ever worked on was a history project from 11th grade in which groups researched the references in Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” which are chronological major cultural points from the 1950s into the 1980s.  It was fun mainly because roughly 24 17 and 18 year-olds were constantly singing the song while we worked, and it was mostly conducted during class time.

The Downfalls of Group Work

The biggest downfall of group work I can attest to personally is the varying attitudes of group members.  As the linked post to Seattle Pi observes, not every student in a group is equally motivated.  I can also cite the work group work experience I ever had:  Geometry in 9th grade.  My teacher grouped us by 4’s and conducted all instruction this way.  I was paired with 3 male students that only cared about passing while I was working for an A.  The dynamics of the group ended up being them copying my work because 1) I would finish it first, 2)It wasn’t worth arguing with them about it on a daily basis.  As a teacher, I saw students with attention problems horribly derailed by group work, which kept pulling them into socializing and away from the assignment.

The Role of Setting

Group work can work well if it is an extremely focused assignment and a tight deadline is set to keep students on track. And happens in a physical classroom, within a defined period of time.  I think group work is horrendous online.  Combined with limits to when assignments open and close, it can completely destroy a student’s momentum in a class. An example:  You must not only post in a discussion forum by Wednesday, you must also respond to at least one other post by Friday.  All next week’s assignments are locked.  After you make your post your progress is literally halted until someone else contributes.  Online classes often attract students with other responsibilities that limit their “class time.”  I’m one of them.  I believe students who already have limited class time are hurt by being reliant on others to advance in their assignments.

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