Making groups “work”

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“I’M GOING to count you of and separate you into groups.” These words resonate as dread washes over you.

This situation is often unavoidable in the realm of group work. Who will you be working with? Will they carry their own weight? And while I cannot speak about all teachers at Townsend Harris High School, my own experiences suggest that many base an assignment’s grade of of the fnished project. Few ever review the efort, or, in some cases, the lack of effort, put into the project in its entirety by each individual. Here lies the two main problems behind group work.

When group work is assigned, you immediately think to pair up with your friend, someone you worked well with previously, or someone you can easily depend on. Some assume that if their partner works well and wants a good grade, they won’t have to put in any effort themselves; when such students receive good grades this way, it is completely undeserved. Why should someone who won’t carry his or her own weight receive the same grade as someone who worked hard for it?

I’m not against group work, but changes must be made in order to ensure a certain level of fairness. Overseeing the work done by each individual in a given assignment would help teachers accurately recognize the abilities of their students and make grading easier. Teachers should ask each individual in a group about his or her job or contribution to the entire project, and grade each student accordingly. This will give them an idea of who did what, which will make it easier to grade. This setup is currently found in English teacher Jessica Stillman’s classes. Regarding group work, Ms. Stillman said, “I think it helps to develop leadership and social skills…Many students work better without the pressure of doing work individually.” Ms. Stillman fnds monitoring her students’ work to be essential in the classroom. She recommends that teachers use Google Docs for group assignments to check the revision history, as “some people can fake [their contributions].”

It is true that some classes do not have the ability or the need to use a Google Doc because the students do not have access, or the class is composed of hands-on activities and projects. In this case, teachers should have regular group periods where the individuals gather into their groups. This provides an opportunity for the teacher to circulate around and observe any conficts or add their input when needed. They may also perceive how well the group has progressed since the start.

Group work allows teachers to test your ability to work collectively, but this is a skill that we have exercised ever since we started school. Haven’t teachers learned from previous projects? If they assign group work, they should fgure out what their students are actually doing when they are “working together.” Group work can be easy when divided amongst multiple students, but unless it is monitored better, it can easily become the weight of the world for individual students.

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