What’s wrong with group work?

I have truly mixed feelings about group work. In general, people learn more and get more done when collaborating with colleagues (or fellow students) than when they try to go it alone. And working with others is unquestionably a valuable — even necessary — skill in the so-called real world. Almost any job will require collaborating with assigned partners. Furthermore, explaining something you already think you understand to group members who need your help is the best way to firm up your own understanding. I believe in all these arguments. Nevertheless, I have significant reservations about requiring a lot of group work in high school.

The Math Curmudgeon expresses it better than I can:

  • Suppose my “teammates“ can’t learn as quickly as I. I therefore have to “help” them, but I don’t want to be the teacher. That is not my role and I shouldn’t be forced to do it. I’m in the middle of learning this and I don’t quite know it well enough for me to be doing the teacher’s job.
  •  Suppose my “teammates” aren’t motivated and spend a lot of time talking about other things instead of simply getting to work? A 12-yo is not going to be able to influence an unmotivated 14-yo and will not have the “leadership” skills to overcome it.
  • Suppose you mix girls and boys together … the belief is that everyone’s the same, right? Will you also require the boys to shut up occasionally or will you let the girls all take a subordinate role if that’s what develops? Are you ready to separate by gender?
  • How about racial quotas — every team has to have 1 black kid, 3 white kids, and 1 Asian… so the Asian kid can balance the black kid? Are you sure you want to open this nasty can of worms?
  • …A teacher basing a student’s grade in any way on the work ethic and understanding (or lack thereof) of any other student is immoral and wrong. Except for Hogwarts.

So I’m still ambivalent, but it seems to me that the Curmudgeon’s reasons trump the arguments in my opening paragraph. Where does that leave us?

Categories: Teaching & Learning