Does group work work?

Have just been reading 59 Seconds by Professor Richard Wiseman (@RichardWiseman) and am rather dismayed to note that contrary to popular belief, but according to scientific research, groups are less creative than individuals! Does this mean that by getting students to work in groups I have been stifling their creativity?

Apparently this is down to what Wiseman calls ‘diffusion of responsibility’. Because there are other people to take the blame, we make less effort when we are part of a team.

The consensus view in education now seems to be all about groups. Is this just a vogue? Does it need to be challenged? I certainly find it challenging – the idea that maybe we are more creative in isolation flies in the face of everything I’ve been advocating over the past three years!

One thing I do know: teacher lead lessons are NOT the answer. Can you remember anything you ever learnt in a teacher initiated discussion? Can you? After several minutes reflection, I couldn’t.

Will have to investigate this in the classroom. Will post more after my own studies are complete.

7 thoughts on “Does group work work?

  1. It this why we can’t just say get into groups and go? Hence the development of critical skills to make group work work?

  2. No – I think it’s more fundamental than that – groups are great for disseminating ideas and sharing tasks. Also important for teaching various social skills. But apparently very bad for creativity. My own experience suggests it’s not great for inducing effort either unless there is some element of letting down others introduced. Maybe a better model for generating ideas is think: pair: square?

  3. I use think-pair-share or think-pair-square-share in class a lot. Students feel more confident with their ideas when they can verify them with someone else before sharing them with the whole class or even using them on their own individual work. Jim Smith mentioned it in my NQT year and it’s been a key technique ever since.

    The idea that group work dampens creativity is really interesting. A colleague you know very well made a really good point today about how we as adults behave in groups and that if you know someone else could work out a problem/come up with an idea, is it sometimes too easy to sit back and let them take the lead rather than come up with an idea of your own.

    How could it be tested?

  4. I’ve also read Wiseman’s book and thought that bit in particular was interesting and had the same fear as you.

    However, you should also have a read of Ian Gilbert’s book, “Essential Motivation in the Classroom” where he suggests a way around the delegating responsibility and everyone doing less. It comes from Ideo’s 7 rules for brainstorming:

    Defer Judgement
    Build on ideas of others
    Stay focused on the topic
    One person at a time
    Go for quantity (150 ideas in 30-45mins)
    Encourage wild ideas
    Be visual

    Ideo know what they’re talking about, they designed Apple Mac’s first mouse and also the mechanical whale in Free Willy.

    Hope that helps and let me know how it goes.

    Twitter @lauwailap1

  5. Thanks. Yes that is helpful. I’m a big fan of Critical Skills and that’s all about roles & responsibilities etc. to make sure that students work functionally in groups. I’ve read the Gilbert book too and know exactly what you mean. Something else I’ve come across recently is the idea that ‘groups’ of students can achieve success independently of each other, whereas ‘teams’ rely on each other to achieve success. I realise this is just semantics but it suggests that the important thing is devise challenges which rely on genuine teamwork to be successfully completed.

  6. Thanks Amy – I really appreciate your input.

    Have just re-read Phil Beadle’s How To Teach(highly recommended) to remind myself what the great man has to say on the subject: “Any survey of students that asks them the important question, ‘How do you learn best?’ finds the same answer at the top of the list. ‘Groups,’ their answers will scream, with one impassioned voice. “We learn best in groups. WHY WON”T ANYONE LISTEN TO US?’

    I also just watched a fascinating TED talk from from Sugata Mitra which also seems to confirm this.

  7. Pingback: Effective group work « The Learning Spy

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