Monthly Archives: December 2018

I Don’t Like Group Work

But only when it’s done for the sake of doing group work. To tick a box; develop life skills; now back to your spellings etc. etc. When there’s a clear reason for working together, a purpose and the group is managed well, then it’s fine. Necessary. Invaluable.

When you work in a group or a team, does 1+1=3? Or does it equal 1.89? Research says working together improves learning. But that’s like saying food improves health. Let’s think about it:

My occasional collaborator and like-mind, Tom Hoerr, once principal of the world leading New City School in St Louis, says there are three different ways for teachers to learn and work together:

  1. Co-operation: We all get along just fine, pushing towards the same goal, generally agreeing about how things get done.
  2. Collaboration: We all work together on the same project, bringing our diverse and unique skills to bear on it.
  3. Collegiality: We all learn together, researching and teaching one another about the most effective aspects of our profession.

Let’s transform this for students in class:

  1. Co-operation: We all get along fine in the classroom. We do our work. We can, by and large, sort out any disagreements.
  2. Collaboration: We work together on the same task, each taking on a different role and being responsible for a different aspect of success.
  3. Collegiality: We take responsibility for mastering content and teaching it to others – maybe as student mentors, student coaches or subject experts.

Add to this the choice between group work, team work and project work and you have a better idea of the many different kinds of working together: collaborate on a project; co-operate on a task etc. But not sitting around the same table, individually and quietly working on the same thing.

Students don’t come group-ready, especially younger ones. Children who are still busy establishing who they are will be less ready to work well with others. They need core skills: listening, turn-taking, decision making, negotiation, conflict resolution. Just like adults have. Mostly.

Start small. A group of one is a good beginning. Then pairs, then trios. Cap it at sixes and make sure everyone in the group has a clear role in addition to the learning task – facilitator, recorder, checker for example.

Does it work? Research from John Hattie and the EEF suggest it does, but only if we get it right. Ineffective group work is a thing too.

Check out this month’s Thinking Tool for more detail on helping students to work and learn together effectively, efficiently and productively. And reflect on times when you’ve absolutely hated group work and times when you’ve really loved it. What was the difference?