The Art of Group Work

Team work conept. Hard-working university students sitting at table pointing at some information in book with pencils trying to understand what is written there. Students working with books studying
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Group work – just the mere mention of this makes some students cringe.  In fact, I have heard from students who actively choose courses that don’t involve group work even if at first the course sounds really interesting, but in reality, that limits the choices tremendously!  In other cases, I’ve stood at the front of the class and announced, “ok, let’s get into groups and…” and all of a sudden, I hear this cacophony of sighs transcend the room – no holding back, no filters. Let’s face it, there’s a lot of group work in education, and

while many of us I’m sure can come up with some unpleasant memories from our own experiences, there are a lot of benefits to group work when it’s well supported.  I’ve outlined the three most important benefits for me which I use to guide me in rationalizing group work.

Develop Interpersonal Skills

The reality of it is, many of us, for most of our day – whether at work or running errands, must be able to interact with people and “negotiate” experiences.  Class group work helps students to build interpersonal skills which is also an Essential Employability Skill by way of learning how to start a conversation, close a conversation and use tone effectively.  If students stay isolated in their learning, they have limited no-to-low-risk opportunities to test their skill development in communication. The more comfortable they become working in small groups in the classroom, the more confident they can begin to feel when interacting with people outside of the classroom.

Explore Innovative Approaches

I think this is a huge one. When working in a group, you quickly learn that your way is not always going to be the final way.  Again, these “negotiations” can turn into incredible experiences that can force students to expand their thinking and even think outside of their box. Especially when working with adult learners, each group member brings in previous working, living, and learning experiences that will inevitably bring different approaches to the discussion or problem.  While these experience may cause some uncomfortable moments, initially, I have found that when students are able to embrace this, that experience has left a positive mark in their memory of group work.

Discover Unknown Leadership Abilities

A common approach to group work is that there is one person put in the “leadership” position and the others are “followers”. Many students find that the loudest member becomes the member who makes all the decisions and the quieter ones often fall silent. At some point, we learned that if you show extroverted behaviour, then you’re put in the leadership position. However, that’s such a falsity, and there are many examples of incredible leaders who don’t fit this. I encourage students to look at group work as being fluid between leading and following. Each member can discover an area of leadership that is natural for them and take ownership of it when the time is right and follow with confidence when needed. Talk about different leadership concepts – even a supporter can be a leader. Showing students different ways to lead can make the group work experience a highly positive one for your students.

So, the next time, you’re standing in front of class announcing a group work activity, maybe these points will help you stay confident in your choice.

What other learner benefits have you discovered from implementing group work?

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