This is a hard one. I know what the research says. Group work is the way to go. It will help students to be ready for the workforce. They will learn more. They will produce more. I also know how it usually goes. There always seems to be a bunch of messing around going on, and I often wonder if the students are getting anything out of the activity but social time.
There are two ways to go about group work:
1. Divide students into learning styles and systematically group them for a desired effect.
2. Let them choose their own groups in hopes that, because they like each other, they will get some work done.
As far as I can tell, both systems have their own challenges. Number 1 seems like it would work the best, but I have noticed that students are not generally happy about this arrangement. I can handle the students whining, but this is not the biggest problem. What usually happens in a group is that a few of the students know each other and either leave the other group members out of the loop or make them do all the work. I would have to say that I have had few successes under this system.
Number 2 is also fraught with pitfalls. Under this system, students often spend much more time socializing than working because they are grouped with all their friends. However, I often see more work done when I let them choose their partners.
I don’t know what the answer is. I think that most teachers give up after the first few tries and just start handing out worksheets. It is certainly easier. Students can sit quietly like robots and turn in the papers before they leave.
I think the big key with group work is to just keep plugging away. Don’t give up. Here are a few things to try when having students work in groups:
- Be patient: The students are going to mess around a little, but don’t get too worked up. They are still learning, and the lesson learned in groups are much more important than the actual content they are learning.
- Make sure there is enough work for an entire group. If students aren’t busy, they are going to mess around.
- Monitor the class. Many teachers turn the groups loose and then proceed to work on the computer for the rest of the class period. A person can’t do this and expect things to get done. Student will want to show you what they are working on, so ask.
- Have fun! Group work is where learning can truly be fun, but it won’t happen if the teacher can’t show some enthusiasm for the project.
- Model good group work. Showing students how a group should work may be the most effective means of getting them to work successfully.
When it comes down to where students are going to learn, group work is almost always going to win. We just have to keep at it.