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The special torture that is group work

27 February 2012, 08:59

My daughter hates group work at school and she has my complete sympathy. Can anyone explain to me why much of the classwork done at South African schools is performed in groups?  

I am told that it is supposed to train them for the world of work, where they will be required to work with others but there is no real life scenario that works like this.  

Imagine trying to achieve anything by lumping a group of random people together.  Let's take building a house.  In the real world, you'd have an architect, a surveyor, a builder, an electrician a plumber and a project manager.  I'm being very simplistic so as not to get bogged down.   Each person has a specific set of skills and knows exactly what their role is.  You don't hire five architects and a project manager or two electricians and four surveyors.  You need to have exactly the right skills to achieve the desired result.

In a school situation, you end up with a group which, in many cases consists of the wrong type of people.  You may have four architects - all with great plans but no idea how to implement them.  Or four builders who know how to build to a plan but lack one. And if there is no project manager in a group to interpret the brief and hold everything together, then the project is doomed anyway.  

How many kids have failed classroom assessments because they have spent far too long trying to establish roles rather than getting the job done?  How many have failed because they consisted of four visionaries who couldn't agree on a plan.  Or four excellent implementors who lacked project management skills? 

And then there is the issue of accountability.  Lazy kids love group projects because they can sit back and let the most motivated student do all of the work and still get a good grade. Motivated kids find themselves rushing to complete a project at the last minute when they realise that the rest of the group haven't done their part.  It happens all the time. 

If we are going to have successful group projects, then there needs to be some sort of pyschometric assessment first and groups should be assigned based on skill sets, for example; one visionary, two implementers and one project manager.  It doesn't mean that the implementers can't contribute to the vision or the visionary cannot help build but having clearly defined roles will prevent a lot of wasted time and arguments.  It will also bear more resemblance to the real world and help teachers to better assess the overall project and the performance of each child within the group.

If anything, the current method only results in frustration, resentment and a substandard end product that doesn't reflect well on anyone. 

Is there anyone who is in favour of group projects as they currently stand or feels they have value?  I'd love to hear a well reasoned counter argument. 

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