For the past few weeks, my 8th grade students have been working on a group project. The projects did not go well because the group members did not work well together. In discussing my concerns (and disappointment) with the classes, I realized how important learning to work in a group is in our lives, and how essential it is for me to help facilitate cooperative learning with students.
One of the pitfalls of group work is finding the right group to work together. Though I sometimes allow students to choose their own groups, this time I chose the groups for them. I did not do this based on grades or friendships, but instead based on sports participation. I know that may sound weird, but there was a reason. The project centered on preparing our administrator for an obstacle course race. This was a collaborative unit with PE and I thought having at least one, solid athlete in a group was important. So, I built the groups around that idea. I also wanted to split up people that had previously worked in groups. In order to help you avoid the same mistake, let me tell you these groups did not work out. 😦
On the first day, I gave the students a letter from our administrator asking for their help preparing him for this race. The letter set up all the requirements for the project in a real-life scenario way. We talked through the expectations and I later gave them a list of the required items I would be grading. In other words, on my end they had everything they needed to be successful. What they didn’t have, though, was an understanding of what it takes to work in a group successfully.
After grading the projects and talking to the students, I discovered they do not work in groups very often in other classes (one student said I was the only teacher all year that had them work on a group project). This made me reflect on why I do this project and group projects in general. After pondering that for a while (about half-a-second), I asked the students what careers might require people to be able to work together. Of course, they named plenty of careers. I thought this had them convinced of the importance of group work. Then a student mumbled something in a disgruntled tone. I asked her to share. She snidely said, “We’re not even in high school yet.” Again, I stopped and reflected on my practice. Then I responded.
Learning to work with other people is essential. If you play a sport, you work with other people. If you are in drama, choir, or band, you must work with other people. All clubs have members that work together to accomplish a goal. Even on the playground working together is critical. Yet, in the classroom, students struggle with working together on a project. I don’t yet understand why but I am working on it. 🙂
If you have any insights, please share! I love hearing from you 🙂