Despite your best intentions and careful preparation, sometimes group assignments go haywire. Maybe your students don’t work well together. Perhaps your efforts to foster collaboration don’t always translate to student productivity. Here are a few common pitfalls of group classwork and tips to avoid these issues:
Pitfall: Uneven workload. There’s no getting around it: some students put more work into group projects than others. You can avoid this problem by setting clear expectations upfront. Elementary students might do best with assigned roles, while older students should work from a group grading rubric that includes guidelines for sharing the duties. Try incorporating anonymous peer reviews into the project so students know they’ll be assessed for their efforts (or lack thereof).
Pitfall: Disorganization. Putting students together with different learning styles and ideas can cause a little chaos, making it hard for some to use class time wisely. You can greatly streamline group work by developing a timeline of milestones so that students know what they should do and by what date. If you prefer, give them the assignment details and have them get together to develop this schedule of deadlines on their own.
Pitfall: Groupthink. Sometimes students in a group agree or keep quiet to avoid conflict. The problem with groupthink is that not everyone contributes or has the chance to put those critical thinking skills to work. To avoid this, talk with students about compromising and good listening. Consider holding periodic meetings with groups and inviting each student to share how the group came to its decisions.
Mitigate the cons of group work with some proactive effort and your students will reap the gains. The best thing about group work, of course, is that it prepares students for the real world, where teaming up with others is a common occurrence. Set expectations and model good practices in your classroom and your students will benefit.