Group work is a useful tool to unlock the power of cooperative learning. I have no doubt you have applied it and harnessed the numerous benefits it can provide. But it’s not all good. There are a few things to look out for and correct to enhance the learning experience for your learners.
Group work pitfalls happen. As much as we love dividing the class into small group to enact some active learning and promoting important social skill development, we should proceed with caution. Sometimes group work can hamper the learning process. Here are five typical group work pitfalls. Knowing them will help you anticipate them and plan to prevent them.
1. Strong personalities emerge within the group, silencing other more introverted voices
No matter how much work is done by the teacher in preparing the class for group work activities, particularly with respect to division of tasks, there is always the possibility of strong personalities taking over within the group. This risks decreasing the contribution of others as well as reduces the potential of confidence being improved.
2. Lack of focus from certain group members, leads to lowered focus from the group as a whole
There is always the possibility that groups tend not discuss the topic at hand, but would rather use the setting to catch up with fellow members in a social sense, which prevents more focused learners from completing the task at hand.
3. Unfair allocation of workloads among group members, leads to some members carrying the load, while others enjoy the success as a result, without putting in the effort
Some members may not have the tendency to voluntarily offer to complete certain parts of the task, which are typically the more challenging areas. This would therefore reallocate the more complex tasks to those who ordinarily would volunteer to undertake them, lowering overall group participation and limiting learner growth.
4. Embarrassment of failure and being unable to admit mistakes when they happen, may result in the group suffering from a lowered level of performance
If a group member does not feel comfortable with his / her team and covers up a mistake rather than sharing it, this could lead to a lowered performance output from that team member, which could hurt the group in the long run.
5. Pre-established relationships of some group members may result in other group members being excluded from discussions, as well as having a lower impact when it comes to decision making
Sometimes, groups are assembled in which certain members have already developed a strong relationship, which typically means that they are more receptive to each other’s opinions and less so to other group members. This is a natural occurrence, rarely intentional, but requires the teacher to create awareness, before the activity begins.
Now anticipate to plan.
Knowing what to look out for, helps you put plans in place to increase the possibility of group work success. I realise this article doesn’t get into the solutions, but those are up to you. Understanding the problem is the first step towards implementing the solution. It would be awesome if you could share your own experiences when it comes to group work – what went well and what could be improved. As my three-year-old nephew repeatedly says, “Sharing is caring.”
For more teaching tips, there are a couple of other articles for you here. Since you’re here, why not share your knowledge with us in an article and we will publish it for you (your name will be in lights). Plus you will help teachers struggling with some of the issues you have already overcome. Finally, if you’ve got some time, why not tutor for us?
Right, that’s it for my requests. Now go forth and get some epic group work going.
The former Kearney strategy consultant is currently an educator at St David’s Marist Inanda in Sandton, Johannesburg.
Passionate about education, Disrupt Tutoring is the culmination of Jedd’s dream to provide access to quality education to everyone with the burning desire to learn.