Who Doesn’t Hate Group Work?

I suggested that the primary, if specious, benefit of group work was that it required little to no effort in comparison to a regular lecture-based class. Most of my fellow classmates didn’t take me seriously.

Shows how much they know.

Group work, either as projects or worksheets, is easily executed filler. A weekend of preparation and a week’s worth of school library time can make for a pretty standard group project. All it takes is a little elbow grease.

Hell, I pounded out a hypothetical 11th grade group project on an “American creative work” in little more than half an hour.

Create a compelling visual or aural presentation about an American creative work. The work in question must have been released before the Carter administration. Your teacher must approve each group’s topic and the either three or four members in each group. He also reserves the right to assign group membership.

Each group, in reference to all other classes, must have a unique American artist, author, painter, director, speaker, musician, designer or composer. The group would explain the historical significance of the work or movement of which the work was a part. The project must be complete.

Ironically, I closed the introduction with:

Note that projects overlong with filler will lose credit.

While we’re student teachers and we don’t operate on the level of good just yet, let’s nonetheless acknowledge that designing good group work can take just as much effort as designing good worksheets or activities or whatever. Ignore that managing group work in the classroom takes a whole different set of skills that managing a lecture and activity session.

What makes group work easier on the teacher is that, once it gets started, it doesn’t require daily lecture — explain the assignment and let them loose. They usually manage to finish by the deadline, and the firmer the deadlines tend to be, the less this is a problem.

For my money, managing eight groups to stay on task is a whole lot less frustrating than managing 35 kids to perform the same feat.

I think my own teachers noticed this, too. I know filler group projects when I see them, and I remember seeing them all the time as a high school student four short years ago.

Don’t get me wrong: I hated group work as a student, and I still have hard feelings toward it. I also absolutely hate filler. I just fail to see how my peers could miss how convenient a fallback it can be.

Moral of the story? Nicely managed group work for students can mean well-deserved sitting time for teacher.


  1. dkzody

    I prefer integrated projects where the social science or English teacher makes the assignment and the kids work on it in my class. I stay on top of them and then the grade they get from the assigning teacher also goes into my grades. I work with amazing social science, science, and English teachers who understand how to scaffold the elements that go into an integrated project so that we all contribute to the project. We have, however, been doing this for a long time so we have it down pat.

  2. Howabominable (aka Lindsey ^_^)

    As someone who is still a student, I always have and always will hate group work. I was always the one who did all the work while everyone else just sat back and talked about how stoned they were last night. The problem is, if my grade is dependent on the group’s success, I’m going to work my butt off to make sure it’s successful, EVEN IF everyone else slacks off and does nothing. The most frustrating part is after they have dodged class time on the project, done nothing, and ask me for something to us in our inevitable group presentation, I give it to them and they flub it. I remember getting a terrible grade on one of our huge class reports because one of the members decided not to discuss anything I gave her to, and then when the teacher called us on not discussing those things she got all defensive.

    So yeah, I have group projects. To me they exploit the hard-workers in the class who really care about their grade and their progress in school while giving those who don’t care about their success a free ride.

    But hey, if it’s easier on the teacher, that’s fine, I guess… but I would rather my grade live or die on my own work rather than Drunken McPartypants and Suzie McHangover.

  3. dkzody

    Life is a group project. That’s why we do them in school, it’s part of the training. I also have the biggest group project of all in the school–the yearbook. Kids have got to learn how to deal with all kinds of workers out there because they will sure run into them when they get into the work world.

    • Set

      From a college student’s perspective, the problem with the whole “we’re preparing you for the real world” argument is the fallacy involved in trying to equate the “real world” with a college classroom. In the corporate world (I know because I’ve worked in it for more than a few years) we get paid to do a job. That is strong motivation to perform. People that won’t or can’t perform or are disruptive are culled from the group one way or another.
      In college, a good sized chunk of the student body just pays their tuition and does the minimum amount necessary to skate by and graduate with that piece of paper that says they’ve accomplished something. That means that some people in a group will be motivated and hard working, and some won’t be. Those that aren’t get carried through on the shoulders of their group mates. That doesn’t really happen in the “real world”. People like that get fired.
      We don’t have group tests, group GPA’a, or group interviews, so please do not force your college students into high stakes group projects.

  4. Life is not all group project. You have to think on your own and know how to develop your ideas further. You need to be able to recognize flaws or uncertainties in your own work so that you can make it better. Whether you’re writing a poem or essay, proving a theorem, or learning an instrument, you generally need a lot of solitude for the difficult stuff. If you never learn how to handle solitude, you will only reach a certain level. Of course I’m saying that partly because I hate group work too. It isn’t so much that I resent the others. It’s just too noisy and superficial, even if everyone’s “on task.” I think much better on my own.

  5. Ms. Diana: I think better by myself, too; that’s mostly the reason I hated it.

    Ms. Zody: You have a point, as far as it pertains to the business world. Then again, a lot of the business world, especially advertising, is pretty noisy and superficial as Diana says.

    Ms. Lindsey: Agreed, though there are ways of making students accountable to their own work. I prefer in-class group assignments with various resources provided, so that I can keep an eye on what everyone is doing or not doing.

  6. I have found that each of my students is capable of completing an entire group’s worth of work, due to the amount of time wasted when they “work” in groups. So I create assignments that allow me to give essentially the same work to everyone but with just enough differences that they can’t copy each other. And then I say, sure, you can help each other out, but ultimately, you’re responsible for your own work.

  7. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think you are advocating lecture as the most effective teaching method. Maybe you should step down off of your high horse and talk to your students. Please be assured, they only tolerate listening to the teacher talk, and they sure don’t learn much (nothing in my life has been more boring than the hours I have spent listening to teachers drone on and on). The key is not the teacher working hard. The key is the students working hard.

    As the noted teacher educator, Harry Wong says, “the one doing the work, is the one doing the learning.”

    I incorporate partnerships and group work every day. I see the teacher role as an adviser and a resource. And, if a student has to carry the load because a less capable student is unable, he/she must learn to be a leader, and help a peer find success.

  8. Clix: Your approach takes a whole lot more work. I prefer having the group assign standard roles to members of the group, a trick my master teacher taught me. It diminishes the amount of research you have to provide and amount of re-invention of the wheel you have to do each time a group rolls around.

    If they’re to present to the class, I’ll have a member as Director, another as Secretary, another as Illustrator and another as Educator. I’ll probably flesh this out into a blog post, eventually.

    Mr. McGuire: I’m not sure where the false dichotomy between lecture and group work comes in. Lecture can a great way of introducing a subject. The issues with lecture come in when it lasts more than 20 minutes and when it isn’t reinforced with some sort of individual work.

    Maybe you should get off your high horse and acknowledge that the comparison lecture was purely a flippant one that assessed only the effort on the part of the teacher. The point of this blog is not to espouse the merits of lecture but the tenuous benefits of group work, and how the latter is weighted by how if students don’t hate group work more, then they simply hate it much more consciously. Most of these comments — including one by a student — affirm that sentiment.

    Partnerships are a whole other matter. They’re easier to keep under control and with them it’s easier to have students delegate their responsibilities equally.

    I love that quote about working hard, though. I’ll be sure to add it to my list.

  9. clark

    Why do you want to waste students’ time while you sit on your ass? Why did you want to become a teacher? You are a disgrace.

  10. Several reasons off the top of my head:

    1. Lesson falls through. Need something to do.
    2. Students teach each other better than you teach them.
    3. It’s quick and easy for everyone involved, and it doesn’t have to be too involved.
    4. Simple poster projects provide you with something you can gague student progress throughout the lesson.
    5. It breaks up a lecture period, providing variety.
    6. Students may learn better visually and socially, as with a quick group project.

    To wit: Up yours, douchebag.

  11. Astrid

    I’ve worked in “real world” corporate culture, and the college classroom is in no way comparable to the workplace. The real world is pretty brutal. People who won’t or can’t perform or who are disruptive don’t last long. They are culled from the group in one way or another. In college, however, those people are carried through on the shoulders of their teammates that actually do the work.

    And then there’s the reality that many people will not choose to work in a team-centric culture. There are plenty of jobs that require more solitary type work, and telecommuting from home is becoming more common.

    The growing pedagogical fad of forcing people into high stakes group work is misguided in so many ways, but mostly because it doesn’t take into account student input. I believe in student centered pedagogy that considers student learning preference and that empowers students to have input into their own education. If professors would take a survey, I’d bet my right arm that high stakes group work wouldn’t rate favorably. Many people just don’t learn optimally that way. Yet, they are forced into it by professors that claim to know “what is best”. So, how about actually asking students how effective high stakes group work is for them? I’ve heard alot of lipservice being done to student-centered pedagogy, but have rarely seen it in action at the college level.

    • frater mus

      >People who won’t or can’t perform or who are disruptive don’t
      > last long. They are culled from the group in one way or another.

      Oh, how I wish this were true.

  12. What precisely honestly motivated u to create “Who Doesnt Hate
    Group Work? On the Tenure Track”? I reallyreally loved the blog post!
    I appreciate it ,Wesley

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