Sunday, January 18, 2009

Third FIRST post

Or how Eric discovers working in a group is sometimes not fun.

A committee is a thing which takes a week to do what one good man can do in an hour. ~Elbert Hubbard

When I went to pick up Eric from his robot building session yesterday, he seemed to be upset. Sometimes when he gets upset it is not readily apparent what happened. However I anticipated this from him at anytime, and wondered what took it so long to appear. He has had a run in with “Work by Committee” the death of any Project Based Learning activity, or any activity.

When we set up group activities in the classroom we tend to assign roles to the students, the recorder, the timekeeper, the reporter and so on. In the real world these are jobs that are voted on or occur naturally. I tend to be the person moving the agenda along and trying to get rid of extraneous conversations.

Some of the most frustrating meetings I have ever been in have involved writing a document. There are always grammar people that want to parse each sentence, and argue about punctuation. There are meetings after meetings after meetings. Then eventually I just write the document, send it out and ask for changes to be sent in within 48 hours. The job then gets done.

This is similar to what Eric ran into yesterday. After getting the drive system finished for their robot, he was asked to go over and work with the electronics group, the group that makes it so the robot can move. He was happy to do so, so he went over to their group. The electronic group was discussing, not only about the layout of electronics, but everything else in the world. Eric attempted to focus the group on the task at hand with little or no success. They did cut out a cardboard piece the size of the electronics tray, but not the components. All of this in about 4 hours of work.

He is a person that takes ownership of a project and runs with it, not one to disappear into committee so that if it works they can take credit and if it does not work, it was not their fault. He has helped his brother build his computer by reading and following directions and plugging stuff in. He is like this in most projects. I am the same way, cut out the talk and let’s get to work.

Is this a good thing to do in any group project? When does something move from a group work to “my work”? How do you move in the other direction? I have had students grade each other after finishing a project, and usually someone in the group did nothing, or two of them just sat and chatted while the others did the work. It is difficult for the let’s get moving crowd to work with discussers, but with out discussion, the design may not work.

How do you draw the line in your projects to see things get done?


Lori Feldman said...

I have to say, as a parent the idea of group projects give me grief. I have daughters who take responsibility for their learning. When there is a group project it seems there is always one, or some who put in little effort and are mysteriously gone at key times. Hopefully teachers who assign such projects grade on both individual and group efforts. My daughter has chosen, when available to work alone to avoid frustration.

Susan Myers said...

As an educator, I want students to work together for multiple reasons. However, I have seen students sit on their hands while others in the group work. That frustrates the teacher as well as the working students in the group. So, do we give up assigning groups? No. Because, in the real world, the workers will be forced to work with slackers, credit takers, etc. They need to be taught HOW to work with/around those who do not work. Does anyone have a list of the skills the workers need to deal with/around the non-workers?

Paul Bogush said...

We work really hard to create projects in which if one person does nothing the project does not fall apart. We also "fire" kids who do nothing early on. We don't wait until the end. Also, when they come to the end and they have to present it (oral, visual, web-based), the person who does not have the work complete not not get to include any of their partial work. For example, Friday the kids had an oral presentation in which each kid was responsible for four things. One kid had two of the four, he did not come to the front of the room to present. The other kids came up without having to worry about his work reflecting poorly on them.

I am not a fan of saying that having slackers in a group will teach kids about the "real world." Adults have the skills to deal with slackers, kids do not. When a group has a slacker it is imperative for a teacher to get involved and model how to deal with a slacker. As Susan said,"They need to be taught HOW to work with/around those who do not work."

montgorp said...

Its a tough question.

Its my experience that students do not know how to work in groups. Yet as you say, forcing roles on students makes the whole thing rather artificial.

As an aside: this discussion touches on theories of "distributed cognition" that suggest that knowledge resides in the group more that the individual. I subscribe to this. Yet, as you have pointed out, group assessments are very problematic.

It sounds like Paul has put a lot of thought into group learning and assessment. I would like to hear more from him.

tsakshaug said...

Another parental frustration with "group work". Younger son had a poster due today that was worked on with another student. He was putting the work together, the other student wrote in pencil with crossouts and eraser marks. Rudy looked at it, did not like what he saw. He typed the other students work and added to it, not to mention cleared up the spelling. He did a nice job on it. So do they get the same grade? I would think so as it was an out of class assignment. They do not have to present the poster to the class, so how can they be quizzed on it?
In a case like this, I would think there needs to be a presentation so that he teacher can ask questions and get an understanding on what each person learned from the project.

tsakshaug said...

Wes Fryer has an interesting post that is similar to this one