9/25/2007

Why Group Work Is Evil

From about as early as I can remember I have detested group work. I have always felt that I ended up carrying the bulk of the load because I was concerned about my grade and therefore motivated to whatever necessary to get a good one. Typically I was not paired up with people who shared these sentiments. (There are a few examples of teams that do readily leap to mind of people who weren't bad to work with in school, Michelle, for example, was a dream to work with as I think she was even more motivated to make sure things were right than I was...which I guess made me the slacker in the equation. Hm.) Regardless, as I've gotten older I've grown to dislike group work all the more. I should probably caveat that I'm talking about group work for school - I really don't mind teams/groups/whatever at work because everyone shares the same motivation (essentially) and usually those aren't too much of a pain. Once you get past the inevitable one or two people who are grossly incompetent (like Pokey at my last job, for example.)

Since my degree program is, essentially, interdisciplinary (Computer Science and Education) there are a lot of education theories that we get to learn about - and as others in the class (who all seem to have drunk deeply of the social constructivist kool-aid) valiantly waved pennants and worshiped at the altars of Piaget and Vygotsky I have been the fuddy-duddy in the corner hrumphing under my breath and muttering about how Thorndike might not have been as off base as people seem to think. I got into the habit of prefacing my comments in class with, "As you all know, I'm old school, but..."

And now I find myself in learning theory, chugging through the historical progression of learning theory development from Plato forward. Our assignment is to read the chapters in the book that outline the learning theory in question and then find an outside source that furthers our understanding of the theory. Essentially we're building an annotated bibliography. So I've worked my way through Plato and Locke and Skinner to Piaget and I have to say my outside source for Piaget is tickling me to no end. Because, you see, it's a case study looking at 2nd graders and their learning in problem solving situations with various collaborative settings. There are the control groups (high achieving and low achieving students who work individually) and then there are low-low, high-high, and low-high pairs. All work the same problem solving activities (in this case, sorting activities). The results have left me muttering "I told you so!"

See, the end result is that the group work only benefited the low achievers who were paired with high achievers (because the high achievers were seen walking the low achievers through the exercise). The students who were able to achieve a high result on the individual pretest actually regressed on the post test if they had been paired with a low achiever. So...all this focus on collaboration? Making us stupider. It appears that group work is the communism of the educational world. From now on, just call me an educational capitalist.

6 comments:

Jennifer said...

Very interesting, Beth. I always hated group projects too. Same reason.

What's funny is that when I was discussing with my neighbor (a former 4th grade teacher) our choice to homeschool our 2nd grader her first suggestion was that I make sure to give him the opportunity to work in group settings. "They learn so much from that." I smiled, nodded my head, promised to think on it and went away.

Education capitalist. I like that:-) As a homeschooling parent I really do feel that way.

beth said...

You know, I do think you can learn some things from groups - but usually that's social skills (IMO). And kids can learn that from church or any number of other non-school groups.

And the kids with lower ability/achievement in the study really did learn a lot from the group work - because they were sponging off the other kids. Which isn't necessarily bad. But if you're on the quicker end of the spectrum it gets annoying to be the sponger and not the spongee. :)

You know, I have a couple of friends who homeschool and I think they're all pretty much educational capitalists too.

Gwynne said...

I agree with you, Beth. I always hated group projects for the same reasons. I can see how this does benefit some students on the lower end of the learning curve, but frankly, the real problem was that they didn't even try, so it's doubtful that anyone gains much in that case. But you're right, in a work environment, where everyone wants to do a good job, we do learn from each other and it's nice to have folks to bounce ideas around, share the workload, etc. Synergies abound in a healthy environment, but that's the key word..."healthy."

Michelle said...

As a teacher, I usually pair up the high-achievers together, for that very reason. At least as a group, they'll generally work well together and come up with good results. But often you find that there's a lot of arguing over whose idea is best.

With the low achievers, if you put them with some creative average kids, it can sometimes work.

My favorite method? Let them choose their own groups. Sink or swim, baby. :)

beth said...

Gwynne - I think I got a bingo out of the whole Synergies abound thing. ;) (That would be Buzzword Bingo, btw.) Still though, it's true...I just don't know that I've ever used the word synergy without being snarky.

Michelle - there is definitely something to the "sink or swim" theory, though the learning theorists would say it defeats the purpose because, most likely, the high achievers will group together. Of course, they'll be happier, so there's that to consider. ;)

Rach said...

Vygotsky and Piaget...those bring back teacher's college memories :).