The Challenges of Group Work

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Earlier today I received this email from a fantastic high school teacher regarding the challenges of group work in her class:

Before I respond to this young lady, I wondered what your educational philosophy on this sort of issue might be. I’m tempted to let them find their own solutions to this open-ended problem of planning and filming the Brave New World propaganda project commercial but if her group members are being that unhelpful and from what I can see, they are… then it really isn’t fair to her to be stuck in the middle between my high expectations and her group members’ lack of effort.

Note: they are seniors in second semester and they are into college which helps explain their attitude of merry slap-haptitude!

How would Leif approach this group effort problem???


…I’m having difficulties with this storyboard. With much frustration as we had in class today trying to come up with a concept, we still haven’t gotten anywhere and I now have the responsibility to turn it in by tomorrow. I hate to be a pain but I feel like with my group members, we aren’t getting anywhere. I missed Friday and I thought they would’ve at least come up with something but turns out, they did nothing.
The pressure to make this storyboard as on point as possible is really getting to me and I feel like I’m getting no where because I have no ideas and no idea how to lay it out. I am using bounce U as a part of it but I cannot elaborate into where and when to put it. We literally have great small ideas but no one put in input on how they want to do it. I just don’t know what to do because I feel as if my group and I are getting nowhere and we aren’t working well together. Taking on the responsibility all by myself puts my grade in danger and with little story, Id be doing all the work. I didn’t want to say anything but just the pressure of having nothing to go off of is just frustrating me. Sorry again!

Here is my response:

A few thoughts on the challenges of group work…

Here is where an ongoing group evaluation is important – planning two times during the project for groups to come together and evaluate how they are working together. I am attaching an example of a rubric for this to this email. In the comment section, I coach groups to first identify a strength in the way that they are working. Then I tell them that the second sentence should be about something that they need to improve on as a group and how they are going to improve in that way. For the second group evaluation, I ask them to specifically address that growth area: Did they improve? How? I would make sure that I am part of that conversation for some of it so that I get to listen to the quality of the conversation. Manipulate the attached checkpoint at will, focusing on the criteria that you think is particularly important for this project.

The second thought I have is that this problem is exactly what should happen. For the rest of their lives, they will be faced with this challenge – people coming together in groups to get work done, and not everyone living up to the expectations of others. The goal in high school education is not to try to avoid this conflict. Instead, we should confront it, embrace it. The students need to develop the skills of working in groups, creatively problem solving with each other, being able to take the lead and to follow when the time is right. The 21st century workplace demands these kinds of skills.

Third thought, the evaluation of this project should be group based and individual. There should be a record of the group work and the individual work so that individual work is honored.

Group work is hard. There is this myth that students can either do it or not. That couldn’t be further from the truth. It is a skill that demands consistent, mindful practice, like anything else that we want to get good at. So the question is: how are we designing learning environments where our students can develop these essential work and learning skills?

How’s that for a start?

Check out the Workgroup Checkpoint here:

workgroup checkpoint

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