Group work may not work

Throughout my years as a student, I've learned to dread a phrase that keeps popping up more and more in the classroom: group work.

Now, I know what you're thinking: "Two heads are better than one," "There's no 'I' in 'team,'" and all manner of equally great-on-paper cliches. There is no doubt in my mind that teamwork and comradeship is absolutely necessary in the real world, as it is nearly impossible to succeed without some sort of combined effort.

However, group work may not be as effective as a learning strategy as was once thought.

As an open letter to educators, here are a few key rules that should be followed when dealing with group work:

Rule No. 1: Kids are smart.They know who's responsible and who isn't. Despite efforts to create fair groups, there will always be one or two students who end up with most of the work. Without the power to "fire" other group members, it is difficult for these types of settings to have much relevance with real-life situations.


Rule No. 2: Self-reliance is equally important.The ability to complete a project without step-by-step support shows perseverance and work ethic. Being able to work well with other people is like icing on the cake.

Rule No. 3: Not everything requires teamwork.Some projects take much longer when students are forced to find limited time outside of class in order to work on them together. Unless the assignment is complex and requires more than two or three weeks to complete, keep it individual.

It's easy to understand the reasoning behind this modern epidemic of group work; having students learn from each other is a great way to spark discussion, and it gives teachers more opportunities when expensive supplies, such as laptops and microscopes, are limited.

This being said, group work is far from being the most productive learning experience. Countless class hours are wasted when students are forced to play the role of babysitter, or are asked to fumble around with subject matter that only a teacher could accurately explain.

The idea of cooperative learning has even spread to more than just the classroom. More and more businesses are using corporate team-building seminars and personality tests to group employees into more efficient work settings.

Ultimately, our society has been trying to introduce and implement collaboration between disciplines in order to find answers to the complex problems we face today.

But where do we draw the line? Certainly there needs to be some separation between individuality and the ideals of a group. Selfless learning is only possible when there is room for each person to feel independent; only then will we truly benefit from working together.

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