When I first started to have students work in groups, I made a huge mistake: I assumed that, once the groups formed and I told them what their task was, they would go out and do great work. Needless to say, it didn’t work out that way!
In fact, I became so discouraged at how dysfunctional the groups were and how bad the work was that they handed in, that I abandoned groups for a while.
After doing some research, however, I realized that, with pre-planning on my part, there was no reason why group work could not be an energizing, efficient, and positive way for students to function. I no longer hesitate to have students work in groups.
For me, there are three components to making group work a success:
1. Form groups in such a way that they will be more likely to function well (see the “Forming Effective Groups” post),
2. Train the groups how to function effectively, and
3. Create a system for evaluating group work through each stage of the work process.
Yes, this means doing a lot of “set-up” work prior to the class, but if you do it well, the rewards are huge. I no longer hesitate to have students work in groups.