My Take on Group Work and Lazy Grasshoppers

Could Hamlet have been written by a committee, or the Mona Lisa painted by a club? Could the New Testament have been composed as a conference report? Creative ideas do not spring from groups. They spring from individuals. The divine spark leaps from the finger of God to the finger of Adam. – Alfred Whitney Griswold

I never liked group work as a child.  The same few people always did all the work, and the same few people always sat around, goofed off, “forgot,” turned in nothing, and got the same grade as the rest of us.  Everyone in the group got the same grade, regardless of contribution.  Whenever the teacher started to divide us into groups, half the class would groan and the other half would grin.

It was unfair then and it’s unfair now.  I can still remember the feeling of outrage when this would happen.  I still feel outraged.

Why should good, hardworking students have to support lazy, non-contributing students?  Why should lazy, non-contributing students get the same grade as the students who actually did the work?

One group grade indeed.  Hong Kong Phooey.*

Unfair.  Unfair to the max.

And I may have just described our economic system.  Sigh.

Oh, and as far as the grasshopper and the ant are concerned:  why in the world should we pity the grasshopper?  He chose his way of life.  Let him reap the consequences.

*Bonus points if you know what that means.

P.S.  I wanted to insert a cool picture of Hamlet telling the skull he knew it well, but my blog will not let me upload pictures any more.  Are you an expert?  I need help here.

P.P.S.  My blog won’t show tags now, either.  Is it haunted?


Comments

My Take on Group Work and Lazy Grasshoppers — 18 Comments

  1. The issue of group work goes beyond the issue of unfair distribution of labor and effort. It penalizes those who may think better by themselves rather than “cooperatively”. I’m one of those. I know in various ed school classes when we had to break into small groups to solve a math problem (these were in math teaching method classes), I shut down and couldn’t think of how best to approach the problem because of others chiming in aggressively with their solutions. Some students are not aggressive, are shy, may be hated by other students because he/she doesn’t fit in, and in the latter case, working in groups is tantamount to allowing the classroom to be a continuation of playground bullying. This issue is written about clearly and persuasively in a book called “Raising a Left Brain Child in a Right Brain World”. My review of the book can be found here:

    http://www.educationnews.org/index.php?news=99856

  2. The issue of group work goes beyond the issue of unfair distribution of labor and effort. It penalizes those who may think better by themselves rather than “cooperatively”. I’m one of those. I know in various ed school classes when we had to break into small groups to solve a math problem (these were in math teaching method classes), I shut down and couldn’t think of how best to approach the problem because of others chiming in aggressively with their solutions. Some students are not aggressive, are shy, may be hated by other students because he/she doesn’t fit in, and in the latter case, working in groups is tantamount to allowing the classroom to be a continuation of playground bullying. This issue is written about clearly and persuasively in a book called “Raising a Left Brain Child in a Right Brain World”. My review of the book can be found here:

    http://www.educationnews.org/index.php?news=99856

  3. I’m forwarding this post to my 27 year old son who is still bitter, after all these years, about middle school group projects. Teaching to the mean, not rewarding the kids who can truly flourish because time is spent “bringing up the rear” at their expense, quashing excitement under the burden of including everyone…… I wish he’d been in YOUR classroom, Mamacita.
    a/b

  4. I’m forwarding this post to my 27 year old son who is still bitter, after all these years, about middle school group projects. Teaching to the mean, not rewarding the kids who can truly flourish because time is spent “bringing up the rear” at their expense, quashing excitement under the burden of including everyone…… I wish he’d been in YOUR classroom, Mamacita.
    a/b

  5. Ok I’m guilty! Make it stop already. I’ve been on both sides of this rant before as there are benefits and drawbacks on each end of this debate. I’ve been the lazy last minute student that invested little to no effort into a project and I have also been the project “mule” that had to carry the entire load solo. Great post though and I too wish for a system that is spread out more evenly and representative of how things are done in the business world. One day. One day…

  6. Ok I’m guilty! Make it stop already. I’ve been on both sides of this rant before as there are benefits and drawbacks on each end of this debate. I’ve been the lazy last minute student that invested little to no effort into a project and I have also been the project “mule” that had to carry the entire load solo. Great post though and I too wish for a system that is spread out more evenly and representative of how things are done in the business world. One day. One day…

  7. Thank you for bringing up this point. Now, can all of my children’s teachers please read this?!

    My kids hate doing group work. They never do as well, usually because some kid they didn’t want to work with in the first place doesn’t pull his or her weight. It’s not fair, and I have never understood why there are so many group assignments in school.

    -Shannon

  8. Thank you for bringing up this point. Now, can all of my children’s teachers please read this?!

    My kids hate doing group work. They never do as well, usually because some kid they didn’t want to work with in the first place doesn’t pull his or her weight. It’s not fair, and I have never understood why there are so many group assignments in school.

    -Shannon

  9. I hate them, except in very rare cases. I especially dislike having to give a kid a lower grade then he/she worked for because the rest of the group didn’t step up to the plate. So I don’t give group grades.

  10. I hate them, except in very rare cases. I especially dislike having to give a kid a lower grade then he/she worked for because the rest of the group didn’t step up to the plate. So I don’t give group grades.

  11. ABSOLUTELY! I honestly think most groupwork is so “those” students can get a good grade without lifting a finger so it can be averaged in with their actual other zeros so the kid can be promoted and have it look legit on paper.

    I’m a firm believer in zeros for zero work. Freebies are condescending and unfair to hardworking students who actually do what they’re supposed to do.

  12. ABSOLUTELY! I honestly think most groupwork is so “those” students can get a good grade without lifting a finger so it can be averaged in with their actual other zeros so the kid can be promoted and have it look legit on paper.

    I’m a firm believer in zeros for zero work. Freebies are condescending and unfair to hardworking students who actually do what they’re supposed to do.

  13. My kids HATE the group assignments for exactly the reasons you state with one exception.

    There was a social studies teacher who assigned three group projects each year, and she allowed the members of each group to grade each other on their work. The projects were worth 200 points. One hundred for the project, and one hundred for the peer rating.

    It worked wonders when it came time for that second project.

  14. My kids HATE the group assignments for exactly the reasons you state with one exception.

    There was a social studies teacher who assigned three group projects each year, and she allowed the members of each group to grade each other on their work. The projects were worth 200 points. One hundred for the project, and one hundred for the peer rating.

    It worked wonders when it came time for that second project.

  15. I feel EXACTLY the same way about group work. In fact, I don’t do it at all in my class (excepting workshopping papers, of course, but I see that more as a one-on-one activity rather than group work). My colleagues do it, to varying degrees of success, but I hated it so much as a student myself (all the way through to my Master’s degree, even) that I refuse to subject my own students to it…

  16. I feel EXACTLY the same way about group work. In fact, I don’t do it at all in my class (excepting workshopping papers, of course, but I see that more as a one-on-one activity rather than group work). My colleagues do it, to varying degrees of success, but I hated it so much as a student myself (all the way through to my Master’s degree, even) that I refuse to subject my own students to it…

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