Group work is an important aspect of classroom design. It involves all the activities carried out at a work place, dance academy, football club, and home. Students collaborate, communicate, assign roles, support each other, and in the end, join parts together to present a complete project. While this process has many benefits, there are several shortcomings in group learning projects that teachers should 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 and produce the ideal project.
What many teachers don’t practise is assigning roles to group members. Some teachers believe no one should be the boss and everyone should have a fair say. Other teachers think the clashing of demographics can teach students real-world lessons to prepare them for adulthood.
While these are valuable objectives, teachers must be realistic. In group work, the leadership role usually manifests itself. The work place has a manager, a football team has a coach, and the home has parents.
In the same way, classroom groups have leaders, even if no one wants to admit it. When there are several strong members who want to take charge, there are arguments, resentment, and discontent. Sometimes, the weaker students get lost in the whole fiasco.
After completion of group projects, teachers should allow students to address the challenges faced. If arguments arise, the teacher as mediator can offer counselling.
Participation from the members
A group is made up of students with varying strengths and weaknesses. The teacher expects them 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.
One group member may prepare and distribute questionnaires to students at the school. He may collect and analyse them, and offer viable conclusions to the project.
Another group member may simply paraphrase a few sentences from Wikipedia as his contribution. This unfairness breeds contempt among classmates therefore teachers should always address participation issues with students.
Developing team work skills
Team building is a common reason given for group work. Each member 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 supposed to become strong and a strong person supposed to become stronger.
Unfortunately, very often, the strong leads and the weak trails behind. When students have a goal to accomplish in a short space of time, stronger students tend to focus on getting the job done. This leads to the weaker students being shut out and left behind. The teacher should address the concerns of students who may have not learned anything from the lesson.
Yay or nay to group work
Many teachers believe there is one ultimate goal to be judged and that is the final project. To these teachers, 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 if 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 classroom, the group is commended for its success, not the strong student who did most of the work. The students who 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 look at their students’ strengths and weaknesses, group them accordingly, and consider assigning leadership roles to the strong ones based on previous grades. If the aim is to expose students to varying personalities and develop collaboration skills, then always do follow-ups.