Questions about Group Work

cc licensed photo shared by flickr user charamelody

Reading and commenting on Aviva Dunsiger’s post on classroom desk arrangement reminded me of a related but different topic I’ve been wrestling with lately. I’ve been asking myself questions about what it means to do group work.

I’m not certain which lady or gentleman first automatically equated group work with collaboration, but I need to have a word with her/him. When it comes to project work, l’m a proponent of my students taking a larger role in deciding whether working with a partner to create, produce, and/or present is really in the interests of everyone’s progress and learning. Some cite the infamous ‘real world’, in which we are supposedly inundated with demands to work with random people (in many cases, ones we can’t stand), as the pedagogical impetus behind group assignments, but that reasoning just feels lukewarm to me. It’s a strangely defeatist vista which I don’t see reflective of reality, and essentially lays our own adult baggage onto kids. Just who are these masses of people creating great works with people they have little to no working chemistry with? And what kind of bias are we promoting for our extroverted learners over our introverted ones in this equation?

For the next group project you intend on assigning to your class, have you considering having some students work on their own? Shouldn’t our learners be comfortable with the idea that we can differentiate in this area? Why can’t the environment, culture, process, and assessment be collaborative, but products be individual?

On the other hand, perhaps there’s something to be said for the serendipity of picking names out of a bag, forcing learners out of their comfort zone? Perhaps it’s a comfortable idea for some but not others? Maybe it disturbs the regular social dynamics for the better?

How do you do group work with your learners?



  1. This is a great post, Royan! Often if my students are working in groups, they choose the groups. We’ve spent some time before on how to pick the best group for an activity, and I’m really pleased with the choices they make. I also almost always let students choose to work alone. This works well for some students, and I respect that. Usually when students work on their own, I see them orally brainstorming with other students first, and then completing their own work. There’s strangely still some collaboration here. And sometimes, I do choose groups. When I do though,I think about the students and who they work well with, and I try to choose accordingly. This is not something I do often, but sometimes I need a certain dynamic in these partner groups, and creating these groups myself seems to be the best way to ensure that this happens. What do you think though? How do you deal with this situation in the classroom?


    1. I pretty much do the same. I like the blend of all the options on a case by case basis. I also have ‘Learning Partners’ where students are in pairs for an extended period. Thanks for the response!

    1. Learning partners is something that evolved from TRIBES for me. I do the same thing I learned in TRIBES (and something you have written about) where I ask students to write names, etc. But I do it as an online form because it’s a little more private and… exciting:) This year, I also had my students fill this survey in about intro/extroversion, this time remixed from Susan Cain’s. This helps me match personalities.

      It sounds crude, but essentially I treat it like a matchmaking service. It’s nothing special. Pretty much what you’ve already described. But I do try and make it special by calling it “Learning Partners”. I want my students to take it seriously.

  2. Reblogged this on mpnENGAGED and commented:
    Love this. Group work: how does it work best? I think variety if probably the spice of life. Exposure to all ways is a good idea for the individual. Still, everyone needs time doing it the way they work.learn best.

    1. I see PLCs as a slightly different issue. In saying that, however, I can’t profess to being the bigger fan of them in practice. They usually seem very top-down, forced collaboration with an end in mind. Isn’t that what happens when you acronymify something?

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