Here is an excerpt from School House Dilemmas. It appears in Chapter Two: Methods and Curricular Decisions.

Group Lesson or Mob Rule?


As a new teacher, you are still trying to find your style.  You remember that some of your high school teachers used group work and that you preferred talking with your classmates about course material.  In fact, sometimes you felt that you learned more from your peers than from your teachers.

Now, you are the teacher.  One thing that you want to incorporate is extensive group-work.  After a few weeks, however, you realize that your group activities are not as successful as you had hoped.  To start, they seem to take longer than you anticipate.  You typically wait about ten minutes for the kids to complete your assignment and then ask, “How many of you have finished?”  Usually, about a third of the kids raise their hands.  And a few minutes later, when you try to end the activity, several of the students ask for a few more minutes, as they are not done.

Furthermore, when you ask the kids to get into groups, the kids do not respond as you’d like.  To start, you notice that two or three students tend to keep to themselves and not work with others.  Also, even if you ask for groups of three or four, sometimes groups of six or seven get together–and the same kids always seem to work together, even if you ask them to partner with different classmates.  Plus, you’ve noticed that several high-achievers tend to roll their eyes when you tell the class that you need them to break into groups.  You also find that you have to give instructions several times as some students ask, “What are we doing?” after the activity has begun.

Then, when you try to go over the work they’ve completed, you have several more problems.  Some of the students talk while others are discussing their work.  Those who have permission to talk often speak too softly, causing classmates on the other side of the room to interrupt and complain, “I can’t hear!”  And when you are finished with the group activity, you have a very difficult time getting the students’ focus and attention for the next activity.

You ardently believe in cooperative learning, but so far the experience has been so miserable that you want to stick to lecturing and individual seat-work.

How would you proceed?