Some students enjoy working in group situations, but others find it stressful and frustrating. Implementing group problem solving in the classroom setting has several advantages and disadvantages, and good teachers will find ways to balance the group dynamics in the classroom. Emphasize group work's advantages to students, and work to fix possible problems and disadvantages that might distract from learning outcomes.
Personality Types Can Complement Each Other
Diane Heacox, author of "Differentiating Instruction in the Regular Classroom," claims that putting students in teams works well because different learning styles can complement each other. She cites Howard Gardner's eight multiple intelligences: interpersonal, intrapersonal, logical/mathematical, naturalist, kinesthetic, linguistic, musical and spatial. When you pair students with similar intelligences, they are able to choose projects that will work best with their intelligence. Or you can pair them with students of different intelligences so that they can accomplish the parts of the tasks that complement their intelligence.
In a group situation, work can be divided so that students will each only have responsibility for part of the project. That way, students can accomplish more in a smaller amount of time. Encourage students to have team meetings at the beginning of a work session and then to divide tasks so that more will get done, instead of simply going over every issue together, which can create conflict and slow the problem solving process down.
When work is divided, though, there is the possibility that some students will not get an equal share of the work. Oftentimes in group situations, a high-achieving student takes on the majority of the workload to guarantee a polished finished product. If you are worried about this, assign each student a particular part of the project, instead of counting on the team to divide the project appropriately, and grade each student on her part. While some teams can be accurately assessed with a team grade, others will need individual accountability.
When people work together, it is inevitable that they will experience conflict. When students work alone, you can more easily control their behavior in the classroom. Group projects open up the opportunity for a variety of problems, such as fights and loud behavior.
Particularly in a classroom situation, the management of group work can take extra time. Students can easily be assembled by simply telling them to work with whomever they choose; however, students are likely to pick their friends, and this could cause social and noise issues.
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