Look for common problems that arise in group work to determine which intervention is best.

Look for common problems that arise in group work to determine which intervention is best.
5 (1 vote)

Action:
Common problems that arise in group work and relevant strategies:

  • One person in the group suggests ideas for how to tackle a problem, but others keep ignoring that person’s ideas.
    • Remind students that arriving at well-grounded idea requires that they take everyone’s proposal seriously by incorporating or offering critiques of the proposal. Time spent discussing the weaknesses of a proposal are a good use of time.
    • Join the group discussion and direct a question to this student. Even standing near the quiet student can get the other group members to redirect their attention.
  • One person in the group seems like they only want to get answers from the group and isn’t interested in actually learning.
    • Assign students roles in the groups and suggest that this person take the role of provocateur instead of notetaker. Or if 3 of 4 students are working at the board, ask the fourth to switch places with another at the board.
  • One person in a group is really bossy and takes over the direction of the group.
    • Assign students roles in the groups and suggest that this person take the role of notetaker.
    • Remind all the groups of the importance of equal participation as a way of showing respect.
  • One person in a group keeps saying they don’t like working in groups and keeps going off and doing things on their own.
    • Consider giving students time to collect their thoughts before joining the group.
    • Inquire outside of class what they dislike about group work; it might be that they have had bad past experiences and you can then think about how to design a positive group experience.
  • During a group discussion when people are supposed to share their ideas, one person has a hard time being concise and keeps rambling on and on and on and takes much more air time than everyone else.
    • Ask students to write a few bullet points about their thoughts before joining the group.
    • Ask all students to be aware of how long they are speaking within the group since it is important that everyone have a chance to express and react to ideas..
    • Consider setting time limits (e.g., no person should talk for more than one minute at a time)
  • Some students may expect themselves or are expected by others to contribute a lot to the task and others may be expected to contribute very little due to implicit and explicit biases and assumptions.
    • In advance of the group work, discuss how biases shape our expectations, how those might appear within groups, and what steps can be taken to avoid them.
    • Assign students roles in the groups and have them switch these roles.
  • Some students are physically apart or orienting their body away from the other students or the materials that the group is working with.
    • Ask the group to make space for everyone.
    • Join the group discussion and direct a question to this student. Even standing near the quiet student can get the other group members to redirect their attention.
    • Inquire outside of class how they are experiencing the group work so that you can then think about how to design a positive group experience.

    Reason:

    • These strategies attempt to address common group problems without assigning blame. An overly talkative student may be responding to group members who don’t speak up. A student who is withdrawn may be responding to negative group dynamics or bad past experiences from another class. Before employing these strategies, the first best step is to ask students outside of class about the reasons for their behavior.