Group learning is an important aspect of classroom design. It involves all the activities carried out at a work place, dance academy, football club, and even a home. Students collaborate, communicate, assign roles, support each other, and in the end, join parts together to present a complete project. While this process may seem straightforward, there are several shortcomings in group learning projects for teachers to take into consideration.
Role assignments in group work
Many teachers see group work as an opportunity for their students to get involved with the lesson. They expect that the various personalities, cultural backgrounds, experiences, and knowledge would merge together and explode into a big bright rainbow of wonderfulness.
What many teachers don’t practise is assigning roles to group members. They believe no one should be the boss and everyone should have a fair say. We all know how that goes all too well. The clashing of demographics can actually do more harm than good.
Just like the work place has a manager, a football team has a coach, and the home has parents, classroom groups have leaders, even if no one wants to admit it. The leadership role usually manifests itself. In the case where there are more than one strong members who want to take charge, there are arguments, resentment, and discontent. The weaker students usually get lost in the whole fiasco.
Participation from the members
A group that is made up of students with varying strengths and weaknesses is expected by the teacher to be cooperative when it comes to deciding who does what for the final project. The teacher may not consider the unequal participation that may occur.
While the feisty investigator prepares and distributes questionnaires to students at the school, collect and analyse them, and offer viable conclusions to the project, another researcher simply paraphrases a few sentences from Wikipedia as his or her contribution.
Developing team work skills
Team building is a common reason given for group work. Each member supposedly learns from the other. They build relationships, learn how to cope with clashing personalities, and resolve problems eventually to reach a common goal. A weak person becomes strong and a strong person becomes stronger.
In reality, the strong leads and the weak trails behind. When students have a goal to accomplish in a short space of time, who has time to be nice to those slower students? These students are shut out because the strong ones are focussed on getting the job done as quickly as possible. Just like in the work place where one employee feels victimised because he or she keeps back production, the weak students may also feel bullied.
Who benefits and who feels cheated?
The teacher believes there is one ultimate goal to be judged and that is the final project. It does not matter what went into its making, what matters is the outcome of the product in the end. At a restaurant, no one cares that the chef cooked the entire meal all by himself because his staff walked out. Hungry patrons simply want the meal they ordered in the time promised. The restaurant gets the credit not the chef.
In a group project, the group is commended for its success, not the students who did most of the work. The students who skylark and do the bare minimum for the project reaps an excellent grade and the hard workers feel indignant.
The unfairness is real in many groups. So, before teachers scream, “Yay, it’s group work time!” They should know that there are students who grumble, “Nay, I hate group work.” Teachers should know their students’ strengths and weaknesses, group them accordingly, and assign leadership roles to the strong ones based on previous grades.